Chronic back pain has been called a modern epidemic- so how do we help prevent and manage it?
Back pain is the second most common reason to visit the GP, after skin conditions, and almost eight out of 10 of us will suffer from it at least once in our lives. It’s also the number one cause of sick leave – and sufferers are getting younger. It rarely has a serious cause, usually being brought on by bad posture, awkward sleeping positions and other lifestyle habits.
Exercise is one of the best ways to help reduce back pain and keep it from returning. Most minor cases of back pain can be reduced with regular exercise and tailored workouts. Stretching, strengthening, and conditioning exercises can result in stronger muscles that support the spine and your body’s weight. When your body’s skeleton is supported, you are less likely to suffer injury and back pain. 5 great exercises to beat back pain:
You need to take care of the core muscles that support your spine. There are many workouts for back pain that do this, and your doctor or therapist should be able to give you specific advice and training for your unique back pain condition.
A good example of a safe strengthening exercise is the pelvic tilt. To do this exercise, lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles until you can press the small of your back flat against the floor. Hold the press for about five seconds and repeat up to 10 times.
Keeping your core muscles limber is as important as keeping them strong. Two good stretching exercises are the knee-to-chest and the hamstring stretch.
To do the knee-to-chest, lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Bring one knee up to your chest and use your hands to pull the knee close while flattening out your back; then repeat with the other knee. The hamstring stretch is done from the same starting position. Pick up one leg with both hands placed behind your knee and then straighten your lower leg. These stretches should be held for about 20 seconds and repeated five times. Be sure to warm up before you stretch.
Stretches to avoid: One of the worst stretches for a person with back pain is bending over to touch your toes while keeping your legs straight. Even worse is bouncing while trying to touch your toes. Other bad workouts for back pain are ones that require you to bend or twist with any type of weight in your hand.
An aerobic exercise is any exercise that uses the big muscles of your body in a rhythmic and repetitive way. Aerobic exercise can get blood flowing to your back muscles, which can really help them recover from injury and increase their strength. Walking is a good low-impact aerobics choice for your back, but swimming may be an even better workout for back pain if you get backaches.
In general, swimming is an excellent form of low-impact aerobic conditioning that is easy on the back and spine, with swimming there is practically no impact on the spinal structures. The water supports the body, relieving stress on all joints in the body.
Yoga and Pilates
Three all-around good workouts for back pain are Yoga, Pilates and working with an exercise ball. Yoga and Pilates are great because, as long as your teacher knows your limitations, they can be adapted safely for most people with back pain.
Yoga and Pilates are both fantastic mind-body workouts that can dramatically improve your overall fitness and wellbeing if a regular practice is put into place. In terms of flexibility, both workouts can improve overall flexibility as well as increasing spinal flexibility. Increasing spinal flexibility will really help to improve your fitness performance, in addition to helping prevent injuries.
Pilates focuses on spinal flexibility through articulation of the spine. It is excellent as a strengthening exercise and supporting your back. Pilates and Yoga stretches benefits include improving your posture, helping support the spinal column and alleviating back pain. However certain postures such as deep back bends and cobras can be a bit risky, especially if you suffer from any back pain.
Neck Tension is one of the most common issues treated in the chiropractic office and it’s no mystery why.
When we look down for prolonged periods of time, we disrupt the natural position of the neck. Our neck is designed to have a nice curve in it so that the weight of the head can be supported by the entire spine.
By looking down too often, all of the weight and pressure of the head is put on the neck and upper back. As the average human head weighs 5kg, that is a heavy load! This causes our neck to actually change shape – becoming straighter rather than curved.
When muscles get tight and irritated, the joints become stuck, the ligaments are overstretched and, worst of all, this causes interference in the spinal cord. If you spend several hours a day looking down at your phone or computer, chiropractic care would be extremely beneficial to you.
Since the neck supports the entire head and cervical spine, it is important to treat neck tension properly. The neck most commonly experiences stress and tension leading to pain. Neck pain may involve muscle spasms and strain. The presence of problems on the muscles and bone at the neck can cause limitation of motion of the neck joint. Most commonly, people complain of stiff necks.
If you experience any neck pain ask your chiropractor how to reverse the effects of neck tension.
The way you sleep could be causing you unnecessary aches and pains. We are told time after time that we should be sleeping flat on our backs, but many of us have already developed habitual sleeping patterns, which are hard to get out of. However, if you suffer from neck or shoulder stiffness, muscle tension or more commonly back pain, you might want to think twice about curling up into a ball next time you reach for the sheets.
Why do I wake up in pain?
Incorrect alignment and poor support of your spine and limbs will put pressure on different areas of the body, which is why you may sometimes wake up with pain or discomfort.
Why is it so important to look after my spine?
Your spine also plays a huge role in sending nerve signals around the body; delicate nerve tissues help control your critical organs, so any damage to these tissues can lead to problems affecting impairment in balance, vision, temperature regulation, digestion and hormonal regulation problems.
Refrain from sleeping on your stomach as this causes your spine to arch unnaturally and usually results in both back and neck stiffness
Laying on your back or side is the ideal position, however to perfect your alignment try to use an orthopaedic pillow to give your neck adequate support
If you sleep on your side, consider placing a pillow in-between your knees for support to prevent your back and pelvis from twisting
If you sleep on your back, consider placing a pillow under your knees to take the tension off your lower back
Acknowledging and correcting your posture throughout the day will help you find ease when it comes to sleep
What if the pain persists?
Importantly, remember that poor quality sleep can be caused by an underlying neck or back problem causing increased muscle tension. So if you are experiencing poor sleep, you need to ask your chiropractor to check your neck and back.
With shorter days and colder weather, finding the motivation to stay healthy and fit can be difficult. And that can lay the foundation for a weakened immune system, posing a greater risk of developing illness or injury. No wonder they call it the winter blues! Here are some easy tips on exercise, diet, health and wellness that you can follow during the cold season.
Start a Keto diet
The ketogenic diet (or keto diet, for short) is a low-carb, high-fat diet that offers many health benefits. In fact, over 20 studies show that this type of diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis.
When this happens, your body becomes incredibly efficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can supply energy for the brain. Ketogenic diets can cause massive reductions in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, has numerous health benefits. Ketogenic diets may even have benefits against diabetes, cancer, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease.
Add Omega 3 fatty acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are a healthy type of fat that are naturally found in many food types including fish, plant seeds and nuts. Omega 3 fatty acids are great for reducing joint pain and stiffness as they are a natural anti-inflammatory”. Studies have also shown that omega 3 fatty acids help lower levels of depression, which people commonly feel during the shorter, darker days of winter.
Cook with Spices and Spice Related Foods
Onions, garlic, ginger and turmeric are the perfect items to add flavour to your dishes. Not only do they make food taste great, but they’re also shown to help improve immune function. Fresh garlic, ginger and onions are more than flavouring. Using all three together has a synergistic effect on lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Turmeric is a spice traditionally used in Chinese and Indian medicine. This spice helps to combat a number of conditions including inflammation and heart disease, and it also acts as a powerful antioxidant.
Plan your Workouts
If you don’t feel in the mood for fitness, you can do exercises at home. There are plenty of resources online that supply workout videos and exercises. These resources offer a variety of workouts including yoga, strength training, aerobics and other body-weight exercises. But try to stick to a weekly exercise plan so you don’t put off your regular exercise activities. On Sunday night, write down your exercise schedule for the next seven days. Choose your exact workout routines, activities or exercises for each day and how long they will be. Knowing what you’re scheduled to do each day ahead of time makes it easier to stick to.
Head to a Steam Room or a Sauna
If you begin to feel yourself experiencing depression or higher levels of stress after the holiday season, steam rooms and saunas can help. They help tense muscles to relax, which can alleviate feelings of stress. The high temperatures also get you working up a sweat, which is a great way to detoxify your body and your skin.
Frequent Hand Washing and Vitamin C
Frequent hand washing throughout the day and consuming lots of vitamin C are an absolute must in maintaining your health during the winter.
Not only do they help protect your immune system and prevent you from developing flu and colds, they also protect others around you.
Whether you have an important work deadline to meet, a dentist appointment to book, or simply remember to pick up milk on the way home, we are all guilty of succumbing to the pressures of a never ending to do list.
Multi-tasking and always switched on?
With our fast paced and demanding lifestyles, we tend to put the majority of our thoughts to the back of our mind. However, when we are not able to recognise the relevance or influence of individual thoughts they can filter into the physical body as muscle tension or inflammation, which is why mindfulness could help relax your mind and body.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming aware of yourself in the present moment, enabling you to identify how you feel inside and out. With this mind-body approach, you can clear your mind of negativity and unnecessary strains and ultimately, help against physical aches and pains.
Why is it beneficial?
Mindfulness allows you to understand your pain and teaches you how to let go of any anxiety associated with it, as these thoughts can contribute to increased tension, forming a vicious cycle of increasing pain.
As well as stress and chronic pain, mindfulness can help combat anxiety, sleep and eating disorders. Mindfulness increases positivity and energy levels which encourage healthier life decisions, improving your overall sense of wellbeing. So not only are you likely to make better food choices but you should be able to finally relax when it comes to getting a good nights sleep too.
How to practice mindfulness?
Simply take 10 minutes out of your day to practice mindfulness, by working on five basic tips.
Sit comfortably and relax
Focus on your breath
From your head to toes, bring awareness to each body part
You’re probably aware of the primary factors that can cause or worsen pain. These can include poor posture, injury, too little (or too much) activity, and specific conditions such as arthritis.
But did you know that what you eat can also help to manage or relieve pain, or even prevent it occurring in the first place?
Here are some of our top nutrition tips for managing pain.
Ditch the processed foods
Processed foods generally refers to most things that come in a packet with a list of ingredients: from biscuits to ready meals to breakfast cereals. They often contain little in the way of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. They may worsen inflammation and pain because they contain higher levels of unhealthy fats – in particular, processed omega-6 fats and ‘trans’ fats, which have pro-inflammatory properties. They often contain quickly absorbed sugars or refined carbohydrates too, which may exacerbate inflammation when consumed in excess.
In contrast, ‘real’ foods are as close as possible to how they are found in nature. They can include whole vegetables and fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fish, eggs and meat (whole cuts, not ‘deli’ or processed meats). These foods naturally contain higher levels of nutrients that can help reduce inflammation and pain, such as those we’re going to look at in more detail below.
Eat magnesium-rich foods
One of the nutrients that may help to manage pain and inflammation is magnesium. Magnesium helps our muscles to work normally, including helping them to relax, which in turn helps to avoid or relieve muscle tension that can contribute to pain. This mineral is also important for the nerves.
Magnesium is found primarily in whole unprocessed plant foods – especially green leafy vegetables such as spinach and kale, seeds and nuts, and whole grains including rye and buckwheat.
Include oily fish
Oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring and anchovies are high in omega-3 fats. These fats have anti-inflammatory properties and therefore may help to manage pain. The specific omega-3s in fish (EPA and DHA) can be more beneficial than the types of omega-3 found in seeds such as flax seeds.
Aim to eat a serving of oily fish around three times a week. These can include tinned sardines and salmon as long as they do not contain added vegetable oils (olive oil is fine). Note that ‘omega-3 fish fingers’ are not a good source of omega-3 fats – stick to the real thing!
Get plenty of vitamin C
You may know vitamin C for its role in the immune system. But in fact the primary role of vitamin C is in making collagen – a protein that forms the basic structure of most of the body’s tissues, including the bones, joints and muscles. If your body can’t make collagen properly, these tissues will lose strength and function, contributing to not only day-to-day pain but also potentially painful conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis.
Eating a variety of vegetables and fruit is the best way to get enough vitamin C. Although ‘five-a-day’ is the well-known recommendation, we should be aiming for at least seven portions a day, primarily of vegetables, in order to get good amounts of vitamin C and antioxidants. Some of the best sources of vitamin C include peppers, kale, broccoli, kiwi fruits, Brussels sprouts, watercress and red cabbage. If you can, get your veg and fruit from a local producer (e.g. a farmer’s market) as it can lose its vitamin C when it’s stored or transported for long periods of time.
Include anti-inflammatory spices
The spices ginger and turmeric in particular can have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. Use fresh ginger and powdered turmeric in your cooking whenever you can, make fresh ginger tea with a grated thumb-sized piece of ginger. If you have a good vegetable juicer you can even make fresh ginger juice to sip on – but watch out, it’s strong!
Try avoiding nightshades
The ‘nightshade’ or solanaceae vegetables may worsen inflammation and pain for some people. These are aubergines, tomatoes, potatoes (not sweet potatoes), and peppers – including chillis and all types of chilli powder (cayenne, paprika etc.). If you’ve implemented the other changes for at least three months and not noticed a significant improvement in your pain, then try eliminating the nightshade vegetables.
Consider eliminating gluten
Gluten is a protein that’s found primarily in wheat, barley and rye. The most severe reaction to gluten is coeliac disease, where the sufferer has to avoid gluten for the rest of their life. But some people who do not have coeliac disease may also react to gluten in a less severe way, which can contribute to inflammation in the body. If you’re cutting out gluten it can be best to work with a nutrition practitioner (e.g. a nutritional therapist) for support to make sure you’re not missing out on any nutrients.
We’ve all heard our parents say “Don’t crack your knuckles, it’s bad for you”, but is it? The ‘popping’ sound is called crepitus and it happens when air bubbles are released from the joint spaces. It is extremely common for our joints to crack, especially as we grow older, so typically it’s not something to worry about.
As we age, our joints tend to make more noise because our cartilage wears down making the surface rougher when these rub against each other. The way you sleep, walk, move, and do daily activities has an effect on how often your joints crack but everyone will experience this at some point in their life.
The myth that cracking your knuckles causes arthritis is completely erroneous. There is no scientific study that proves that there is a relationship between these two. However, according to the US Anatomy and Physiology Instructors’ Cooperative, which examined 300 knuckle crackers, while no direct connection was made between joint cracking and arthritis, those who habitually did cracked their knuckles, showed soft tissue damage and loss of grip strength.
There are cases where this sound can indicate more, but only if accompanied by swelling and pain. As long as it’s not painful, joint noise is okay. If the cracking comes with swelling or pain, then it’s the time to see a chiropractor or a doctor.
In some cases, people like to crack their back and neck but there is a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this. If you crack these too forcefully or too often, it can be very harmful to your health because you can pinch the nerves in these areas making it an extremely painful experience. In some cases, the pain can make it impossible for you to move.
In order to prevent any long-term damage, it’s advisable to visit a local chiropractor to help stabilise the joint which will stop you feeling the need to do the cracking yourself.
Have you ever been told to “stand straight”, maybe by your parents or teachers? They weren’t wrong to tell you that having good posture is important. The technical term for having bad posture is postural imbalance, and there are various reasons why you might be suffering from it. Some of the most common causes include; improper standing or sleeping, stress, slouching while sitting and bending your neck forwards while using your phone.
Although it might be something that you don’t realise at first, poor posture really can harm your overall health, especially in the long run. When we have poor posture, we add tension and compression to structures that weren’t meant to bear that weight. These stresses and strains build up over time and can wear down our bones, joints, and ligaments, even changing the way our muscles work.
If you are suffering from postural imbalance or simply want to prevent it, follow those exercises and tips that can help alleviate muscle tension and as a result, help to fix posture mistakes:
Sit correctly. Your muscles are may not be conditioned to support you in the right position as they are used to supporting you in the wrong position, so it might feel uncomfortable at first, but you can also do exercises like bridges, back extensions and planks that will strengthen your core.
When standing, keep your body in perfect alignment with your neck straight and shoulders parallel with the hips. This is a great fix if your bottom tends to stick out or have what some call the “Donald Duck posture”. Some exercises that can help correct your standing posture are; planks, side-lying leg raises, hip flexor stretches and standing thigh stretches.
Try standing with your weight evenly distributed on both legs. If you are usually leaning on one leg when standing or carrying your heavy backpack on one of your shoulders, you are causing extra pressure to that side of your body which can cause uneven hips. Doing planks, side-lying leg raises, and bridges will strengthen your hip muscles and as a result, help to correct this.
Correcting your posture may feel awkward at first because your body has become so used to sitting and standing in a particular way. The more you practise these exercises and tips, the faster you will be able to correct your posture and maintain it for the long run.
If you have muscle or joint pain or if you think that you may have bad posture, consult with your GP or contact local chiropractic clinic.
Temperatures are changing as the colder seasons approach. Those who suffer with chronic back pain might notice that their condition aggravates as temperatures or seasons change. Although there’s not much scientific evidence to prove a link between chronic pain and humidity, temperature changes and wind speed, weather changes can certainly affect those who suffer with joint pain conditions, especially arthritis and osteoarthritis.
The most commonly accepted reasoning is that with colder temperatures comes lower air pressure, which can cause joint tissues to expand and further worsen joints already prone to swelling and tenderness.
If cold weather worsens your pain, you can take these three simple steps to combat it.
Including heat therapy in your daily routine can help to reduce stiffness and boost healing through increased blood circulation. Try applying a warm towel or a heating pad to your painful area for about 20 minutes for temporary pain relief. You can also opt for over-the-counter heat wraps.
If you like swimming, try to visit heated indoor pools with hot baths, Jacuzzis and saunas a few times a week for almost instant pain relief.
As tempting as it is to lounge on the sofa during winter evenings, it is crucial to keep your spine mobile and stay active. If your pain is too severe to go to the gym, try long walks with hiking poles or a Pilates routine at home.
However, if your pain stops you from leading a normal life, the best option is to visit your chiropractor and professionally address the root causes of joint and back pain.