Thursday, April 12, 2012

7 Reasons Your Back Hurts… and What To Do About It.

1. You Smoke.
A recent study on smoking and low back pain examined 1,337 physicians who graduated from Johns Hopkins University and found that a history of smoking was associated with an increased incidence of lower back pain. The study concluded that development of lower back pain was possibly due to the damage that smoking does to the vascular structure of the joints and discs in the spine. They think it may also cause Cancer but I digress.

Solution: Quit smoking. It may not be easy but pretty much everyone in your life and every organ in your body will thank you.

2. You’re Lazy.
What do eating dinner, your job, and watching TV have in common? You’re sitting during pretty much all of them. Long hours of sitting results in weak and inflexible abdominal and spinal muscles, a.k.a. the core muscles. What’s wrong with that? Nothing, until you have to shovel the driveway, pull the skis off the roof rack, or try and kick a home run playing kegball.

Solution: Get off your butt. If you have a desk job, every 30 to 40 minutes get up and move. Even if it’s just getting up to stretch or walk around your desk, it will help. Exercising 3 to 4 times a week will strengthen the core muscles around your spine and reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease or diabetes. It also helps you avoid reason number 3.

3. You’re Fat.
The American Journal of Epidemiology found overweight people were more likely to suffer from both chronic lower back pain and flares of back pain more often than non-overweight people. Increased lower back pain may be aggravated even more by people with a “beer belly” due to the excess weight pulling the pelvis forward and causing increased strain on the lower back.

Solution: Again, pretty basic solution, lose some weight. If Atkins, the Paleo Diet, Weight Watchers, the South Beach Diet, and 50 million other eating plans have you confused, start with something simple: Burn more calories than you take in. This means eat less and move more. It may not turn you in to Mr. Olympia but it’s a start and that’s half the battle.

4. You Spend Too Much Time Behind The Wheel.
Vibration experienced during long hours driving trucks, buses, and heavy machinery can cause the muscles of the lower back to fatigue. That, combined with increased pressure on the discs of the spine from being in a seated position can cause the discs in the lower back to “creep” backwards, bulging toward the spinal cord and spinal nerve roots. If this goes on long enough, small cracks can form in the disc, weakening it and setting the stage for a “blown disc” (more commonly called a herniation).

Solution(s): If your job requires long hours of driving, make sure your vehicle has a high quality seat to dampen the vibration. Periodic breaks from sitting and driving can help prevent some problems. Also, just as importantly, after driving for long periods, walk around for a few minutes before loading or unloading your vehicle.

5. You’re Doing It Wrong.
It may not be a surprise but using poor body mechanics is one of the fastest ways to wreck your lower back. Lifting with the back and twisting causes torsion in the spine. This puts the structures of the spine in their weakest position and can easily lead to injury. Unfortunately, aside from work, swinging a golf club, softball bat, or tennis racquet also requires a lot of bending and twisting.

Solution: Bend with the knees, not with the back, and always keep your feet pointed in the direction you’re working (no twisting). Also, shot-gunning a beer before the game does not count as a warm up. Take the time to loosen up those tight muscles in the legs and lower back before you attempt to relive your “glory days”. And yes, you can use #5 as a reason to spring for those lessons with the club pro.

6. You Sleep on Your Stomach.
When lying on your stomach, your head and neck will turn to one side which isn‘t that bad, until you stay in that position for a few hours. Imagine moving your computer monitor 70 or 80 degrees to the right of your keyboard, now re-type the entire Penske file. How’s your neck feel? Lying on your stomach also increases the lordosis (forward curve) of the lower back, stressing the spine and causing that stiff and sore feeling you have when you get out of bed.

Solution: Train yourself to sleep on your side or back. Using a good quality cervical pillow and a pillow between your knees will help keep you from rolling on to your stomach. It may take some time to get in the habit of a new sleeping position but if you stick with it, your neck will thank you.

7. You‘re Out of Whack.
Being a chiropractor, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention spinal dysfunction (chiropractors call this a subluxation) as a common cause of back and neck pain. Spinal subluxations can result from a slip and fall, auto accidents, or even simply doing the same thing over and over again. When a vertebrae becomes subluxated, it becomes “locked” outside of its normal position. This causes inflammation of the joints and capsules associated with that vertebrae. When a joint become irritated or inflamed, the muscles around it will tighten to protect it from further injury. The muscle tightness and joint inflammation combine to cause pain and a loss of motion to that area. If these are severe enough, they can also irritate the nearby spinal nerves resulting in conditions like Sciatica or headaches.

Solution: Once again, a simple answer, go see a chiropractor and get adjusted. Chiropractors specialize in finding and adjusting the areas of the spine that aren’t working properly. Chiropractic adjustments are safe and typically result in a rapid improvement of your ache or pain.

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