A vast majority of people, 75%-85% of the population by some estimates, will experience a back problem at some point in their lives. Back pain is one of the most common health complaints and one of the leading causes of missed work days and visits to the doctor. Back and neck pain are frequently caused by the accumulation of wear and tear from everyday bad habits. These little things can add up to cause a great deal of strain on the muscles, joints, discs, and vertebrae of the spine. Taking a few moments to review the following tips to see if there are small things you can do to reduce your risk can pay dividends later:
- Practice proper lifting – lifting by bending down at the waist can lead to back injury, especially if what needs to be carried is large or awkwardly shaped. Instead, hinge at your hips and knees to squat down first. Keep the object as close to your body as possible and then straighten your legs to lift. When possible, try to avoid twisting or turning your body when carrying a very heavy object.
- Try a “zero-drop” shoe – ladies’ high heels can shorten hamstrings over time and put abnormal tension on the lower back. Even other shoes have a slight rise to the heel. Looking for a “zero-drop” shoe, which places your foot in a neutral, level position with your heel even with your toes, can help you to keep normal biomechanics while walking.
- Shed that excess weight – carrying those extra pounds can, over time, start to put unneeded stress on the joints, discs, and other tissues of the spine. Aside from the other associated health risks of being overweight or obese, maintaining an optimal weight can help you to avoid related back pain issues.
- Set up your workstation properly – many people whose jobs require time seated at a desk at a computer are straining their necks and backs because of how their workstation is set up. First, starting with a good quality, ergonomic chair is key. Your feet should be able to rest comfortably on the floor with your thighs positioned slightly below your hips. Computer monitors should be positioned at eye level and tilted slightly down to reduce glare. Your keyboard and mouse should be about shoulder width apart and about 1-2 inches above your thighs.
- Take frequent breaks from sitting – it’s easy to get wrapped up in a project and find yourself sitting in the same chair in the same position for hours. To prevent this from happening, build in regular breaks by setting a timer to get up and stretch every 30 minutes. Even a short 2-minute break can get the blood flowing and break the cycle of stagnation.
- Quit smoking – it’s no secret that smoking causes lung and heart disease, but many people don’t know that nicotine can also be contributing to back pain. Smoking cigarettes reduces your body’s ability to absorb calcium which prevents new bone growth. This leaves smokers with a higher risk of developing osteoporosis and causes slower healing after bone fractures. Nicotine also reduces blood flow to the spinal discs that help to cushion the vertebrae of the spine. Disc degeneration can lead to painful arthritic changes in the spine as well as disc bulges or herniations which can cause debilitating pain.
- Sleep better – there are many things you can do to improve your quality of sleep, starting with making sure you’re sleeping on the right mattress. If your mattress is old, worn out, and too soft, your back won’t get the support it needs as you rest through the night. Choose a fairly firm mattress and a pillow that keeps your neck in a neutral position. If you’re waking up with a sore back, try sleeping on your back with a bolster underneath your knees or on one of your sides, also using a pillow between the knees to reduce stress on the hip joints.
- Strengthen your core – your core plays a critical role in giving your lower back the stability and support it needs. Most people’s normal level of activity doesn’t do much to strengthen the core, so it should be specifically targeted with exercise. A simple start would be to sit upright on an exercise ball, which engages the muscles of the core in order to keep you upright. Holding the plank position is also a great way to strengthen your core and it can be done almost anywhere.
- Release endorphins – endorphins are groups of hormones that are made by the tissues of the brain and nervous system that naturally activate the body’s opiate receptors. This serves to act as a natural analgesic, or pain reliever. Endorphin release can help to block pain signals, reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, all of which are associated with the development and persistence of chronic back pain. Endorphin-boosting activities can include aerobic exercise (I.e. going for a walk, jog, or bike ride), meditating, or volunteering/helping others less fortunate.
- Check your spinal alignment – while this may seem obvious, if misalignments are present in your spine, it can lead to poor biomechanics, reduced blood flow, nerve irritation, and pain. Common signs of spinal misalignment include pain and discomfort, numbness and tingling down the arms or legs, and postural changes.
Solving Back Pain by Getting to the Root Cause
Upper cervical chiropractors focus on the atlas vertebra – the bone that forms a junction between the head and neck and balances the weight of the head. Even a small misalignment here can result in a series of changes throughout the rest of the spine as the body makes every attempt at keeping the head and eyes level. As a result, pain can crop up anywhere along the back where the greatest compensations are taking place. By focusing on the correction of the problem where it started, at the atlas, the body is allowed to return to balance naturally. Areas that were forced to compensate begin to function normally without additional strain, giving them the time they need to heal. To learn more about this unique approach and the positive results we see in our practice, contact us to schedule a complimentary consultation.