When it comes to your back, you can’t be too careful! Sometimes all it takes is the slightest move or twist to lay you up for days, even weeks at a time. You know what its like if you’ve ever suffered from severe back pain. It makes you feel older than you are and you ask yourself what caused it. Was it when you lifted something, or overdid it at the gym, or maybe you slept wrong? Whatever it was you are now paying the price.
In my practice, I see many patients who complain of back pain and for the most part they are average people doing ordinary things, not athletes like you might imagine. It’s often hard to pinpoint the reason for the pain because your back plays such a major role in everything you do. That’s why I stress the importance of prevention and maintenance to keep your back healthy and strong.
In Part I of this series I listed a few suggestions for you to consider as you carry out your daily activities. In essence, always being mindful of what you are doing and how it’s affecting your back is key. There are other factors to consider when it comes to keeping your back in shape that may not seem as apparent such as diet, weight, exercise, and stress. If you’re wondering what any of these things have to do with keeping your back healthy and strong, read on.
Exercise is Your Back’s Best Friend
Nothing could be worse for your back than doing nothing. Unfortunately, many jobs require you to sit behind a desk or remain in a stationary location. Your back hates to stay inactive for long periods of time. My advice is get up and move around, take a walk around the office, leave your work station for lunch…anything to exercise your back.
What if you have to stand for long periods of time? This is not good for your back either. Gravity pulls downward, stressing your spine, and putting pressure on the disks. When this happens the disks lose their height and the vertebrae push closer together causing pain and premature wear on your spine. Try resting your foot on a prop like a footstool that’s 4-6 inches high. This allows the muscles of your thigh and pelvis to relax which stops putting pressure on your spine. Make sure to alternate feet to give both sides of your back a rest.
The healthiest thing you can do for your back is to move and it is the one thing you can give your back that will repay you over and over again. Exercise does it all; strengthens, stretches, lubricates joints, and feeds disks. Physical activity can be the best thing you can do for your back but it can also be a detriment depending on your approach.
If you haven’t exercised in a long time, start slow and build up. Work with a health-care consultant to design a program that is right for you. The last thing you need is to do yourself more harm than good so be careful.
There are some activities that may be better for your spine than others. Walking is considered to be one of the easiest to do and improves your posture at the same time. As you become stronger you can move on to more strenuous activities such as stair climbing, cycling, or swimming. The most important thing when it comes to exercising is to find something you love to do because you are more likely to stay with it. Shoot for 30 minutes each day of cardio and strength training to increase your circulation.
Part of any good exercise routine includes stretching. It helps keep your back flexible so it is less susceptible to strain. Yoga and palates are excellent choices of exercises that are particularly healthy for your back and strengthening core muscles. Most importantly stay active. Studies show low back pain and spinal-disc degeneration are more likely to develop among sedentary people than those who are physically active.
Nourish Your Back With Power Foods
There is no question that weight plays a major part in whether you develop back problems. When you are overweight, your abdominals weaken putting more stress on your back muscles. This makes it harder to keep your spine in proper alignment when standing and sitting. That’s why maintaining a healthy weight by eating nutrient-rich food is so important to your overall health, especially your back.
The best foods are power foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and low in simple sugars and fat. Unlike processed and fast foods that are nutrient poor and high in calories, your muscles need vitamins, minerals and protein to function at their best. Power foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain cereals, breads, and pastas.
Although power foods are the best for providing the energy you need not everyone is able to adhere to the dietary recommendations of 5-9 daily servings of fruits and vegetables. That’s why supplements are a good idea. A combination of vitamins B1, B6 and B12 has proved useful for preventing a relapse of back pain linked to vertebral problems as well as reducing the amount of anti-inflammatory medications needed to control pain.
Studies also show that proteolytic enzymes such as bromelain, papain, trysin and chymotrypsin may help heal minor injuries due to their anti-inflammatory qualities and their ability to be absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract. Bromelain and papain have also been found to help reduce pain and swelling, and promote faster healing in people suffering back strain.
Stress Related Back Pain?
Emotional stress can be a silent killer when it comes to your body. Maybe you’ve had a ”tension” headache or felt tightness in your neck and shoulders after a bad day. When you are stressed out your blood vessels constrict. This means that your neck and back are not getting their proper blood supply and react by causing pain.
If this stress-related tension persists, your muscles begin to weaken over time due to lack of nutrients and oxygen needed to function properly. The weaker your muscles, the more susceptible they are to strain and injury. Stress is not an easy thing to overcome but there are stress relief techniques that are helpful such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, visualization, or just getting away for some peace and quiet to read or listen to music.
As you can see preventing back pain is a full-time job, 24/7. There is never a time that your back is off duty; it is always working to give you the ability to do the things you love to do pain free. Don’t let back pain get you down. Engage in activities that help you to maintain a healthy and strong back, eliminate stress and remember to always check with your doctor if back pain persists.