All Too Common
We DO NOT offer ANY medical advice. This article is merely an informative discussion about back pain in general and some of the things that may contribute. I will discuss some things that have helped me personally or general knowledge that is available to the public. ALWAYS seek medical treatment from your MEDICAL DOCTOR before attempting to address back pain in any way.
Nearly 65 million Americans have reported recent episodes of back pain (1) Almost everyone that I know has dealt with back pain at one time or another. David lives with daily pain associated with two horrific injuries. My dad has lived with this debilitating malady for about 30 years. I have experienced one critical episode of back pain where I was incapacitated for a few weeks and now I safeguard the integrity of my back on a daily basis. Since I am a nurse and a strength trainer, I have to be proactive where my back health is concerned.
At David’s Way we have a saying, “Live to Lift Another Day.” meaning, if we have any inkling that the integrity of our back is compromised at any time during a lift, we must abort. We have safety equipment that allows us to ditch at any time. This saying also means that if we have reason to believe that we don’t need to lift on a given day, we don’t. Safety comes before everything in a sport that can take not only your mobility but your life, if it is not respected. The benefits of lifting are profound, but it must be exercised with great caution. Oddly enough, even though we are lifters, neither of David’s injuries nor the time that I was down with my back have anything to do with lifting. David’s injuries were related to his respective jobs and mine was related to jumping rope on hard-packed clay.
While there are many very healthy people who suffer with back pain, one in four people who have this problem are in poor physical health. That is double the number of otherwise healthy people. (1) Every time that either David or I have had this problem, or any other health problem, we have discussed the fact that our otherwise healthy bodies could recover quicker and more efficiently than people that we know who have bad health habits. A devastating back injury does not discriminate, but if our bodies are healthy, all of our regenerative energy and healing can go towards healing a single problem rather than a host of maladies. The healing nutrients in our foods can be more quickly assimilated by damaged tissues if those tissues are limited.
We have all known those people who sustained a back injury and just a few years later had multiple health problems. Sometimes this can be caused by poor health habits that existed before the injury. After a back injury it’s hard or even impossible at times to go about our normal daily lives. Confined to a bed or a chair, unable to move freely, work or sometimes even care for ourselves, it’s easy to overeat. Sometimes people who don’t normally drink alcohol, or drink very little, will drink heavily to try to alleviate the pain. This forced sedentary lifestyle combined with extra calories can result in weight gain which only adds to the immobility and suffering. In many cases, this scenario may lead to increased blood pressure and the systemic complications that can accompany hypertension. The downward spiral can be devastating, especially if we start in a health deficit.
The road to recovery after a back injury can be slow and tedious. Anyone can sustain an injury at any time. Just like every other illness or injury, our chances of a complete recovery are much greater if we are in good shape when the sickness occurs. I have seen this scenario many times in my personal life and in my profession. There are some people that whenever you see them, you think to yourself, “Wow, his chances are not good.” and there are others that you immediately think, “Well, if anyone can beat this, he will. He’s healthy as a horse otherwise and he knows how to get well.”
A Stitch In Time Saves Nine
There are ways to improve and safeguard our back health. While these things are not a guarantee that we will not sustain a life-altering injury, they will give us an edge. As a nursing student, we were trained extensively on how to protect our back health. Every time that I have either hurt myself or come close to hurting myself, I have been in violation of something that I was taught. Some significant injuries come from falls and other freak accidents. Little can be done to avoid some of those, but for injuries that are caused by the activities of daily living, there are some common-sense things that we can do to lessen the chances of having to live with this kind of suffering.
1-Kneel or squat to do things close to the floor. Let your legs do the work rather than bending at the waist. If you have trouble kneeling or squatting, see your doctor for an exercise program to strengthen your lower body.
2-Don’t slump! Maintaining good posture allows your spine to distribute weight evenly like it was intended to do. It also allows for better blood flow which constantly renews the cells in your discs.
3-Don’t smoke! It is believed that smoking slows circulation to the discs, which may lead to degeneration. (2)
4-Do whatever exercise your doctor approves and you will do. Exercise helps to keep your muscles strong which takes pressure off of the discs.
5-Sleep on a good mattress. The gifted chiropractor that gave me my life back, Dr. Royce Jones in Gadsden, Alabama, had a rule about mattresses. He said that no matter how much you paid for your mattress, if it’s over 8 years old, replace it. I did and could tell a huge difference immediately.
6-Don’t sit in a recliner! A recliner puts pressure on the lower back. I sat in a ROCKER, any kind as long as it was a rocker. Again, Dr. Jones rule. I pride myself on being a good patient and immediately got a rocker. I would put an ice pack on my back and rock for relief. Mind you, I had not been out of pain for weeks when I went to him. His tactics worked well for me.
7-Wear good, supportive shoes that prevent your foot from rotating inward or outward. Your shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles. For Heaven’s sake, don’t keep wearing the same old shoes just because they’re expensive! Medical care costs more than shoes.
8-Limit sitting time because sitting puts pressure on the lower spine.
9-Strengthen your abdominal muscles however your doctor allows.
10-Eat a healthy diet. Your back is no different from every other cell in your body in that you are what you eat. If you want healthy cells in your discs, fuel them with healthy food. If you want junk, eat junk. A healthy cell will endure more stress than an unhealthy one.
11-Stay well hydrated. When we let ourselves get dehydrated, our cells shrink. That is not the best scenario for the discs in your back that are designed to be a cushion.
12-Don’t lift anything heavy that you can use a machine to do. We were not designed to pick up air-conditioners. Use the equipment that is designed to safely move heavy things and for God’s sake, ASK FOR HELP!
13-Keep loads close to the body and evenly distributed. Sometimes I carry a big bucket of detergent to the area where I work. The first thing I learned was USE A CART. If a cart isn’t available, USE A ROLLING CHAIR. If neither are available, instead of carrying it by the handle on one side of my body, I wrap my arms around it and hug it close to my body. That’s much easier and safer.
14-When you are sitting, support the upper body. Don’t let it collapse into your waistline!
15-Stand with “soft” knees, never locked.
16-Get plenty of sleep. The discs rehydrate best when you are sleeping.
17-Maintain a healthy weight. An overloaded spine is compromised. Do yourself a favor and make a sincere effort to get healthy.
18-Use some common sense. If you know that you have no business moving grandma’s furniture or lifting that heavy person, DON’T. Grandma’s furniture is not as important as your health and there are medical devices to assist with that heavy person. If you find yourself in a situation where you must lift a heavy person, ASK FOR HELP. DO NOT EGO LIFT. No one will be impressed when you are collapsed on the floor gasping for breath.
19-When you lift, engage your abdominals first. This will help to stabilize your spine.
20-Stand on a high-density mat that is designed to relieve fatigue when standing for prolonged periods of time.
21-At the FIRST sign of trouble, SEE YOUR MEDICAL DOCTOR! A small problem in your spine can get to be a life-altering problem very quickly even with the best medical intervention. If you postpone seeking medical care, it could be the worst decision that you have ever made.
While many injuries are not preventable, with good health and safety practices, most are. As we say here at David’s Way, “Live to Lift Another Day.”
You have a long healthy life ahead of you.
Make it a good one.