I am no stranger to back pain, so when I was asked to write this article, I jumped at the chance. I thought, now here’s a topic I know a thing or two about. I have had back pain for a good portion of my adult life, including surgery several years ago. This topic was in my wheelhouse. I wanted to get right down to the nitty-gritty and see what the experts had to say.
Common sense teaches that proper posture is key to preventing back pain. As cute as they are, high heels and sandals do not provide your feet with appropriate support, which adds stress to your back. When you are young, you can get away with it for a while, but as you age, your body may begin to rebel.
I met with Dr. Melissa Brennan from Brennan Family Chiropractic and Nutrition Center to find out what the professionals consider to be the tripping hazards when it comes to back pain and how to reduce or manage the risks.
Dr. Brennan named three types of stressors that contribute to our spines not being properly aligned: physical stress (accidents, disease, body size); emotional stress (new baby, work, finances), which she indicated is the worst type of stress; and chemical stress (toxins we eat and breathe, along with environmental hazards).
According to Dr. Brennan, subluxations, when the spine is out of alignment, are akin to “kinking a garden hose,” stopping the flow of water. To maintain a healthy back, it is important to utilize great ergonomics. (Think about your desk: Is it set up correctly?) In addition, frequent stretching and a proper diet (lots of proteins, healthy fats, veggies, some fruit and water) are key. Healthy eating will also help women hold a spinal adjustment for a longer period of time.
When women are pregnant, their center of gravity shifts, which can place more than normal pressure on the spine. One of the best things expectant mothers can do to protect their backs is to remain active throughout their pregnancy. Strong and toned muscles will help support both the baby and the mother’s back.
Dr. Katie Layden from RAK Chiropractic advises women who are pregnant to continue being active. “Exercise keeps the pelvis agile and strong for the weeks ahead,” she says. “If a pregnant woman is too sore to exercise, make sure she is getting to a chiropractor to help with her alignment to get her… exercising again!” Other options for relieving lower back pain are massage, acupuncture and essential oils.
Dr. Todd Buchanan from Northgate Chiropractic Clinic counsels pregnant women and postpartum women to sleep with a body pillow for comfort and to help keep the spine aligned. He also recommends that breastfeeding women support the upper back with pillows or a support garment, which will passively benefit a new mom’s posture while breastfeeding her infant.
RETURN TO THE GREAT OUTDOORS
With the arrival of spring, the urge to get outside and start planting can be a siren’s call beckoning us to run to the local nursery for splashes of color to place around the front of the house and on the deck. Some super-ambitious types will plant a garden and do some serious landscaping all in one day. When the howling winds of January make us dreamy-eyed at the thought of spring planting, our plans can get a bit grandiose.
Remember to keep your gardening goals realistic, accounting for your age, your overall health and ability and the amount of time you can dedicate to maintaining the plants. To protect your back, remember to lift using your legs. Enlist help from your kids, spouse or even neighbors. (Form a neighborhood garden club and work together!)
Getting outside and doing physical work after being sedentary for several months is a recipe for aching muscles. Pace yourself and break chores up into small, manageable tasks. There are no rewards for martyrdom, but there sure can be a lot of pain associated with it! Dr. Layden advises that gardeners take their time and take lots of breaks to stand and stretch. Don’t stay bent over or on your knees for too long. Plant flowers over the course of a few planting sessions, rather than trying to get it all done in one marathon session.
If you do suffer from back pain, remember your friends: ice and heat. The experts at Olmsted Medical Center Obstetrics, Gynecology and Rehabilitation Services recommend that you “rest the affected area and apply ice as soon as possible. Then, if your pain or discomfort doesn’t change within 48-72 hours of an injury, seek medical attention.”
Dr. Brennan also advises using ice for inflammation and applying heat for no more than 15 minutes at a time. She cautioned that you should use more ice than heat. While heat feels good, ice is the workhorse that will aid most in your recovery.
KEEP ON MOVIN’
“Too much time at a computer is detrimental to one’s health just as much as smoking is!” Dr. Layden says. “Hard to believe, but studies are now coming out comparing screen time and smoking—that is how bad sitting is for our bodies! Get up from the computer every 20-30 minutes to get some water, go to the bathroom, stretch and make sure activity or exercise is in the daily regimen.”
A sedentary lifestyle, stress and not taking time for yourself will only add to any health-related problems you may have. To achieve and maintain a healthy back (and body), stay active, eat a healthy diet, drink water and breathe. This is pretty straightforward information, but when you add gentle stretching, correct posture, regular chiropractic adjustments and applying ice and heat as needed, you have built a solid foundation to avoid or alleviate back pain.
Cindy Mennenga, owner of Straight Talk Wellness, is a Health Coach and freelance writer based in Rochester.