Some things in life are a near certainty. Low back pain might possibly be in that list. Chances are that you have already experienced one or more episodes of lower back pain. In the rare case that you haven't, consider yourself lucky and snag a lottery ticket. At some point in our lives we will all face that certain truth of back pain. It will either whimper or shout from the top of its lungs. In either case that talking back pain should be listened to and at all costs refuse to let it take control of your life. Most episodes of lower back pain in our first decades of life are short lived, and most times we ignore it because the pain disappears so quickly. The last thing you should do is ignore the pain because when pain becomes more frequent it is an alarming WARNING SIGN that something needs attention. In our 20s-40s our spinal health is relatively good for most individuals. However, when we test the limits we elicit stress that could be irreparable conservatively as we enter into our 50s-60s. A major limitation to the human spine lies in our makeup. In our mid 40s those healthy spines that we test repeatedly (because we didn't listen to them) leap into a metamorphosis in the wrong direction. Our discs begin the inevitable process of drying up...This drying process creates around a decade of high vulnerability to bulging discs because of instability within the makeup of the discs. This is why there is such a large jump in the occurrence of bulging discs of people in their 40s and 50s. Bulging discs in our 20s or 30s typically occur from traumatic events while bulges in our 40-50s can simply be while bending forward to tie our shoes. This vulnerable period lasts for about a decade until the discs go through yet another metamorphosis (and we're not talking about becoming a butterfly!). At this phase they start to thin out beyond return. This rampant thinning of our discs rapidly increases the presence of stenosis and degenerative joint/disc dysfunction. Now don't let this terminology deter you from sliding into the golden years. Of a sample of 100 people in their 60s nearly 75% of them would show evidence of these conditions, however, only 25% of those would actually report back pain. How many of that 25% would require surgery? Only 1-2%. How many develop chronic lower back pain? Only 5-10%. So what's the take home message? Aging is inevitable, degenerative conditions are inevitable, disabling low back pain is NOT INEVITABLE!! There are numerous ways to promote a healthy spine. The first is LISTEN AND TAKE ACTION when your pain is recurring. Even if the pain is minimal! Take these actions to help curb lower back pain
Avoid Sitting Still for Periods of More Than 20 Minutes
The human body was not designed to sit for long periods. Life, jobs, and hobbies have directed us to the point we think it is the norm but this is far from the truth. Your spine is under much greater stress in a sitting position than it is standing and moving. Limit sitting to 20 minute intervals, set a phone alarm for twenty minutes, and then simply get up out of your chair and move around for 60 seconds.
Make Sure Your Work Chair Supports Your Lower Back
Most work chairs will offer little to no support to the back or even worse, offers “curvature” that simply isn’t created for your body type. A sound work chair should extend upwards at least to your shoulder blades. It should have a subtle outward curve into the lower part of the chair close to the seat. If you feel your chair doesn’t have adequate curvature try rolling up a towel and securing the ends with rubber bands. Place the towel in the lower arch of your back and rest up against it.
Drink Plenty of Water
Don’t medicate, HYDRATE! A large amount of fatigue can simply come from dehydration. This general body fatigue wreaks havoc with your spine and the muscles that support it. Not to mention, that the discs that cushion the bones of your spine are composed of nearly ALL water! Dehydration can also result in chronic pain and dizziness. Stop expecting all that excessive coffee, tea, colas, and sport/energy drinks to supply you with the “get up and go” effect. Used in abundance these create the opposite effect and wear us down through dehydration. Water is the easy source here but don’t forget what makes plants thrive ---WATER!! They are loaded with it, so eating plenty of fruits and vegetables packs the water into our bodies.
Use Sound Lifting Mechanics
No matter how light or heavy an object is you should focus on sound mechanics when bending over. Always do your best to keep a straight back when bending down even to pick up a pair of shoes off the ground. When lifting something off the ground keep the knees bent, back straight, and the object close to the body. Let your legs do the work. Once you have lifted the weight don’t twist the waist, move your feet.
Avoid Holding Your Breath While Lifting
Exhale as you exert while lifting. Holding your breath or taking in a breath while lifting increases pressure throughout your spine and can increase your risk of injury.
Get Into and Out of Bed the Healthy Way
Perform what is referred to as a “log roll.” Through this technique you will minimize incorrect stress to the spine and discs. To perform: Sit on the edge of your bed and lie down onto either side. Once completely on your side, roll onto your back while keeping your knees/waist/shoulders all in line. You might have seen this similar approach if you’ve witnessed someone being “rolled” onto a stretcher. The concept is the same: Keep from twisting or bending the spine.
Daily Exercise Needs to Become a Ritual
Just as routine as getting dressed each day, you should strive to exercise in some form every day. Exercise doesn’t have to be going to a gym. Walking, doing laundry, cleaning house, yardwork, or a multitude of daily chores can be exercise if…it raises your heart rate! But the trick is getting the heart rate up and sustaining an activity at a rate that keeps it up. Use a simple equation: 220 minus your age = (A). Take (A) times 0.65 = (Z). Any “exercise” you perform should raise your heart rate at least to (Z). You should strive for at least 20 minutes of activity most days of the week. Performing multiple bouts of shorter activity is permissible as well. Should any exercise create discomfort or pain that concerns you then seek advice and support from a knowledgeable healthcare source.
Find an opportunity to gain some peace and quiet, take some deep breaths, and journey to an enjoyable location/event. Set aside 5-10 minute intervals a few times a day to help curb chronic pain. Yoga is a wonderful technique to integrate meditation into flexibility.
Sleep with a Pillow Between the Knees
Placing a pillow between the knees can help to align the hips and lower back to aid in prevention of unnecessary twisting forces to the spine. Don’t stress over the pillow being exact or staying in place. If you wake up and the pillow is out of place, simply reposition.
Choose Supportive Footwear
There was a time before man laid asphalt, concrete, and other various hard forms of flooring. This was the era in which the natural soft contours of the earth were not as harsh on our feet. Today, we are subjected to hard contact surfaces and our feet, knees, hips, and spine need a break. These forces can be reduced by 20-25% if we simply think twice about wearing the flip flops, sandals, thin dress shoes, or “naturalist” type shoes. So, sink your feet into a cushioned sole and get moving.
Get Physical with a Physical Therapist
Physical Therapists are specially trained movement specialist that evaluate musculoskeletal dysfunction and develop the best strategies to restore one's mobility as well achieving and restoring activity participation and tolerance. Total Physical Therapy is happy to answer any of your questions.
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