Posts for: July, 2016
What are the high-risk times and events for your lower back? Why can you get into more trouble doing something as simple as picking up a loaf of bread from the trunk of the car, rather than doing something more challenging? What simple steps can you take to avoid injury and pain? Let's get the answers to these questions and more.
Two Critical Moments
When it comes to your lower back and injury risk, there are two critical times when you need to be especially careful. One is first thing in the morning. Your back is actually swollen at that time. You are substantially taller, and the discs have extra fluid in them. A careless forward bend or twist first thing in the morning can do substantial damage to your discs or other back structures. It doesn't seem fair that such a simple thing, bending and twisting, something you have done thousands of times before, can suddenly cause big problems.
The other critical time is after you have been sitting. Long car drives or airplane trips are especially challenging. In this case, the culprit is something called "creep." This means that your ligaments and tendons lengthen into the position that you have been in. Think of sitting as a bent-forward position, as your legs are forward. The ligaments and tendons do not provide protection properly when they have been lengthened by creep. When you first get up from sitting, you are at risk. The longer you have been sitting, the higher the risk. If you sit more upright, with good lumbar support, you will have somewhat less risk.
Here are some common events that can contribute to lower back pain. Keep in mind that in all of these scenarios, your back was already vulnerable.
Scenario #1: You didn't sleep well last night, perhaps from sleeping in an unfamiliar bed after travel, after sitting too long. You get up, feel stiff, but ignore it. You sit down in a soft chair to enjoy your morning hot drink. You get up and get a sudden sharp stab in the back.
Scenario #2: You get up from sleeping, and sit at your laptop, and get entranced by a video or article. You end up sitting far longer than you planned. You get up, and can't completely straighten up.
Scenario #3: You get up from sleeping, drink your morning coffee, which wakes up your gut, and you go to bathroom to empty your bowel. You are a bit constipated, and have to strain. When you get up from the toilet, your back spasms.
Overnight sleeping, even a good sleep on your favorite bed, leaves your back somewhat swollen. Swollen may be an exaggeration, but the reality is that there is extra fluid in all of your joints.
If you have a good back, none of this matters. If you have a vulnerable back, it all matters. Ideally, when you get up, you should do some kind of activity that warms up and "wrings out" the excessive fluids. A short walk, some simple movements, can make a real difference. Sitting down at the computer, sitting on the toilet, etc., can get you in trouble.
So, who has a good back versus a bad back? Unfortunately, most of us have bad backs, at least in the sense that they can be subject to injury and pain at any time. In fact, studies suggest that as many as eight in 10 people experience low back pain during their lifetime. That's a lot of back pain already happening or waiting to happen. And as you can tell from the above discussion, some of the scenarios whereby people experience back pain are all too common.
How to Avoid Injury and Pain
Don't bend over immediately after sitting. Sitting, even in good posture, puts you at risk. The longer you sit and the worse the seat, the more at risk you are. Airlines are very risky; it's hard to get up and move around because of the tight quarters, and the minute the plane stops, you bend over and get stuff from under the seat, or reach up, and twist and lift to get your bag from the overhead compartment. After a long sit, give yourself at least a few seconds of backward bending and/or moving around to reset your spine. Then you can carefully, using your hips rather than your back, bend over to pick up something.
When you sit, don't slump. Slumping reinforces the risks, makes it more likely for something bad to happen to your discs or joints or muscles. So, sit up straight, and keep your back in neutral. Neutral means that you keep a bit of a lordosis in your lower back, keep the lumbar spine from slumping forward, stay more upright. This simple action can make a huge difference. Like any habit, this will require you to "Just Do It" for a few weeks.
Talk to your doctor about these and other high-risk moments for your lower back and what you can do to relieve low back pain or avoid the pain altogether. And make sure to review "Self-Care for Back Pain" in the May 2010 issue, which provides information on exercises your doctor may prescribe if you are experiencing back pain.
Traveling for business or pleasure is a normal part of life. Some of us do it more than others, but the ill effects of travel on your health can be the same. Travel is a commonly overlooked cause of lower back pain.
Air travel in particular can be hazardous to your spinal health due to prolonged slouching in a confined space for several hours followed by dragging your suitcase through airport terminals. Sitting in airplane seats compresses the discs between your vertebrae and can increase any underlying or pre-existing spinal pain. However, don't be so quick to let cars off the hook if you are driving to your destination. Driving involves long hours of inactivity in a seated position exacerbated by poor roadway conditions jarring your body. The last thing you want on your trip is to not be able to enjoy yourself because of back pain. Fortunately you can prepare yourself for the arduous journey ahead and take proactive steps to prevent back pain and other related conditions. Whether it is a short trip or a long haul here are some tried and tested stay healthy travel tips.
Frequent movement is critical for prevention of pain. First move well; then move often. When flying try to get up and move every hour. Take a walk up and down the aisle to increase blood circulation in your legs. This helps prevent aching and soreness in your calves and reduces the risk of Deep Vein Thrombosis, or (DVT), an extremely painful condition where a blood clot forms in a vein deep in the calf when blood thickens and clumps together. Due to prolonged sitting you weaken the stability of your core abdominals which support the spine. Core weakness inhibits the optimal function of your hips and buttock muscles because you have a loss of central stability. Frequent contraction of your abdominal and buttock muscles will build a central foundation of strength reducing the risk of injury.
There are very simple ways to engage your abdominals and buttocks while traveling.
Hands Over Head
Raise your hands over your head and press your palms together with light pressure for 5-seconds. You can do this movement standing or sitting. The reason this works? Whenever you out your hands over your head it forces your spine into extension (backwards bending). The abdominals function as anti-extension muscles. Your brain 'fires' the abdominal muscles to prevent too much extension. This simple maneuver always works the core because it is a neurological response that is natural for the movement. Meaning, you don't have to think about working the muscle it just happens automatically. Pressing the hands together at the end of the movement contracts the muscles further, while also waking up your upper back muscles that are tired from slouching. If you are driving alone, wait until you stop to perform this movement.
Your buttock muscles go to sleep when sitting all the time. They develop what's known as 'glute amnesia.' Buttock muscles forget what to do and when to do it. Waking up and turning back on the buttock is a must in preventing lower back pain. If you don't use your buttock muscles for support your brain finds the support in your lower back. Simply stated, you overuse your back because it's trying to do its job plus your buttocks responsibilities. It gets tired! And when it gets tired it hurts!
Stand with both legs together. Take a slight step backwards while squeezing the buttock on the backwards leg. Hold position for a count of 6 and repeat 5 times per side. The action of stepping backwards fires the buttock muscles and the isometric contraction help sustain the movement. Remember to breathe.
Breathing sets the benchmark for core stability and neck strength. Most people have dysfunctional breathing where they inhale and exhale using too much of their chest and lungs as opposed to the diaphragm. Your diaphragm is an inner core muscle that contributes to intra abdominal pressure IAP. Chest breathers use their anterior neck muscles and upper shoulders too much and this pattern contributes to reduced overuse fatigue threshold. Belly breathing is a powerful way to relax the body. Put one hands on your chest and one on your abdomen. Take a deep breath in through your nose and make the bottom hands move before the top hand. In essence you are inflating your abdomen like a balloon. If your chest hand moves first that means you are breathing with your chest too much. Breathe this way for 3 minutes.
Stop and Move
Take time to move your body in unusual ways to stimulate energy. The next time you make a road stop try these moves and see how you feel.
Hop up and down for 30 seconds on the balls of your feet. You only need to come off the ground a ½ or less. This gets blood rushing from the lower half of your body to the top half. Breathing and heart rate increases delivering much needed oxygen to tight and restricted muscle tissue starving for nutrients.
Cross Body X's mimic crawling patterns in a standing position. This movement pattern ignites neural pathways in the body. One of the most powerful exercises you can do for waking up every muscle is cross midline of the body touching hand to opposite knee. Put your hands over your head and bring opposite knee to opposite hand in front of the body. Put hand back over head and repeat on the other side for twenty five repetitions.
Five Quick Tips:
- Pack heat and gel packs/over the counter to alleviate soreness.
- Bring neck or lower back support pillows
- Drink plenty of water to hydrate your body. Proper hydration reduces inflammation
- Wear support belts for your lower back and calves to prevent stagnant blood flow
- Bring a golf ball to roll on the bottom of your foot (when not driving of course). This acupressure technique stimulates blood flow, nerve energy, and decreases soft tissue tightness.
Travel does not have to be as stressful or painful. If you plan well, execute well and take care of our body while in transit… the trip can be painless. And what better way to relax on vacation or arrive on business after travel, than stress free and pain free!