Every day I work with people that have their own interesting and unique journey that they have been on to eliminate their back problems. Everything from car crashes to deformed vertebrae from birth; I see it all. I think it’s time for a story. This month I would like to bring to your attention the story of a previous member of ours who was dealing with scoliosis at a young age. It is one that sheds some light on whether you can really trust doctors when it comes to your health.
A few months ago, I was training with one of our members and we were talking about how many Americans have developed such sedentary lifestyles. That’s when the thought came into my mind: Have we as humans become like a tiger in the zoo? Have we created a sort of “enclosure” for ourselves with our cubicles, offices, and cars? That is a question I would like to discuss with you today.
Are you thinking of getting an epidural shot for your back pain? This injection is usually a doctor’s next resort if regular medications or physical therapy have not worked. Though the thought of a small and easy injection to take the pain away may be tempting, there are 3 things I recommend you consider before you take the first step.
Not the CauseRight off the bat, I can assure you that the cold is not the initial cause of your pain. It is just something that may accent or increase it. Many people have back pain even in warm climates as well. All of our members that experienced this increase already had the pain, to begin with. We know the cause of our pain. In most cases, it is muscle tightness, herniated/bulging discs, osteoarthritis, etc.
Theory #1: Barometric PressureOne cause for increased pain may be a change in barometric, also called atmospheric, pressure. This is the pressure exerted by the weight of air in the atmosphere of Earth. Think of being underwater, except the water is air in this case. The deeper (or lower in elevation) you are, the more pressure is acting on your body. Well, when there are changes in pressure (sometimes you may hear them say on the news, “An area of low pressure is moving in from the east”), that affects how much pressure is acting on your body at any given moment. Also, you have something called internal pressure. Think of that as the air inside a balloon, except in this case the balloon is the skin of your body. That air inside is pushing to expand the balloon, while the pressure on the outside is seeking to shrink it. When both of these pressures are the same, we have what we call an equilibrium. If the atmospheric pressure drops (this is generally accompanied by rain, clouds, and cold weather), certain parts of your body, such as your joints, may swell up or expand because your internal pressure is slightly higher than the atmospheric pressure. Don’t worry. You don’t become fat and bloated all of a sudden. It is just a tiny change. Now, how does this relate to your back? Well, when your spinal muscles are very tight and pulling the vertebrae together, the small openings in between your vertebrae constrict and start to pinch the nerve. This leads to your back pain. Now, imagine already having narrow openings and your joints in between the vertebrae swelling up… What would happen? That’s right: An even smaller opening for the nerve, causing pinching and more pain.
Theory #2: StressYour increase in pain can also be caused by stress from the holidays. All of that shopping and planning can have a major affect on your body. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death, among which are heart disease, cancer, and suicide. As stress builds up, we start to experience the “fight or flight” response to the demands and pressure of our circumstances. There are many things that happen when we feel this response. They include chills & sweating, heart beating faster and harder, blood pressure increasing, and quick, deep breathing, among others. One other reaction that affects our pain directly is that our muscles become more tense and trembling can occur. And what do tense and tight muscles do? They pull vertebrae together, adding pressure on our discs as well as narrowing the openings where our nerves pass through.
Notice That I Called Them “Theories”Scientists still don’t have a clear and concise reason for why many people experience this increase in pain when the weather gets colder. These theories are the most prominent explanations that have been offered. In my opinion, it is most likely a combination of both. Swelling can add more pressure on nerves if the spine is compressed (This is the same thing that happens when we have inflammation in our spine). On top of that, the added stresses of planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s have a great impact on our whole body, including tensing up our muscles. This, in turn, also leads to an increase in pain.
So Is There Any Hope?Is there any hope for someone that keeps getting this increased pain every year? Yes. And it is actually quite simple. Just continue to exercise and strengthen your spinal muscles. What will that accomplish? Well, two things: 1) When your spinal muscles are strong and holding you up without compressing your spine, any swelling due to pressure changes should not put added pressure on your nerves. Think of all the people that go through the cold weather without any pain. Pressure acts on them just the same way as it acts on someone with pain. 2) When your spinal muscles are strong and capable of relaxing, any muscle tension or tightness caused by stress will quickly go away. Many of our members start to notice that even if they do tighten up from a long day at work, or some labor-intensive task, they are able to calm down and relax because our exercises have trained their muscles to do so.
Sleeping on your sideThis is by far the worst position you can sleep in. Why? Take a look at the image below. When you are sleeping on your side, your support comes from your hips and your shoulders. Based on which is wider, one part of your body is higher than the other. Also, the part of your spine that is in between your shoulders and hips is left with no support and therefore arches down. This causes a curve in your spine that can lead to problems such as scoliosis, unnecessary strain on the muscles on one side of your spine, as well as uneven pressure on your discs.
Sleeping on your stomachThis is not as bad for your back as it is for your neck. When you sleep on your stomach, you’re forced to turn your head either to the right or to the left. Throughout the night you have to keep turning your head from one side to the other because it eventually becomes uncomfortable. When your head is turned, the muscles on one side of your neck are contracted, while the other side is stretched out. What this is doing is creating an imbalance in the muscles of your neck. This may lead to pain and tightness, herniated and bulging discs, and pinched nerves. I have personally experienced a pinched nerve in the neck from falling asleep on my stomach. I woke up and when I turned my head to the left I felt a sharp pain. Luckily, I knew some exercises that I could do at our center, and the pain went away completely.
Sleeping on your backThis is the best position to sleep in. Why? Because your spine is in a neutral, relaxed state. It is being supported all the way from your neck to your hips. It is not curved to the side in any way. The best way to think about your sleeping position is to imagine your posture when you are standing up and looking straight ahead. Are your hips and shoulders parallel? Yes. Is your head hunched forward? No. In a comfortable standing position, your shoulders and hips are parallel and your head is straight up. Now try to mimick this posture laying down on your back with your hands at your sides. That is the best sleeping position. One thing to remember is to stay away from big pillows that force your head to hunch forward. Instead, go with a small, thin pillow, or no pillow at all. Long, cylindrical pillows that fit underneath your neck work as well.
Develop a habitSleeping on your back may feel strange at first but that is simply because you are most likely used to sleeping another way and have developed a habit. Start by forcing yourself to sleep on your back for 30 minutes at night. As it gets easier, increase the time until you have developed the habit of sleeping on your back. Many people fall into the categories of side and stomach sleepers. Combined with a lack of exercise for their spines, this is a recipe for disaster. If you already sleep on your back, great! A multitude of things can contribute to back pain. Not just a lack of exercising. What I have found through working with many people is that back pain relief always requires a lifestyle change. This is one of those things that simply can’t be overlooked because we do it on a day to day basis and it has a direct impact on our spine. Develop healthy sleeping habits and your back will thank you later.
The Structure of our DiscsDiscs are your body’s natural shock absorbers. They connect the vertebrae together and act like joints. Discs are comprised of two main parts: 1) the outer layer: made up of many gelatinous and tough rings 2) the inside (nucleolus): a jelly like substance that is about 80% water
Water and Your DiscsWater plays a big role in the function of your discs. It is responsible for lubrication, delivery of nutrients, and eliminating waste. It also helps maintain the height of discs. Dehydrated discs will shrink in size and can cause pinched nerves. One of the ways water is absorbed in the spine is through something called imbibition. This happens when your vertebrae move and create a sort of pumping motion. Think of a sponge that takes water in and out when you push down on it. Because of this, it is important for your spine to be moving and not sedentary throughout the day. During your sessions at our center you exercise and help improve the imbibition in your spine. In the case of herniated or bulging discs, this movement helps to move the necessary nutrients to your discs in order for them to heal. If you stay sedentary, the flow of nutrients slows down and discs heal much slower. Another way to rehydrate your discs is through sleep. Discs lose some of their water throughout the day, and sleeping helps get some of it back. Provided, you stay hydrated throughout the day. You generally need about 7.5-9 hours of sleep per day. Now how much do you need? Doctors recommend eight 8-oz glasses per day, which is about a half gallon. Not only will it help regenerate discs, but it will also help to flush out many toxins from your body. I hope that this post has been helpful for you and may be an encouragment to stay hydrated throughout the day. Small things that may seem not too important, like drinking enough water, can have a big impact on your spinal health.
What it is & what it doesGlucosamine is a naturally occuring compound that can be found in the fluid around our joints. It is important for building cartilage. Cartilage is the tissue that is found on the ends of bones and acts as a cushion to keep the bones from touching. Our discs are specials joints that connect vertebrae and act as shock absorbers. Glucosamine is usually combined with chondroitin. Chondroitin helps give joints their elasticity, and is said to reduce inflammation. Both glucosamine and chondroitin are crucial for forming and maintaining our discs and joints. As we age, discs can degenerate if we do not have enough of these 2 compounds. One of the biggest benefits to many of us that have back pain, is that they help with healing and repairing discs.
Where can I get it?Glucosamine is extracted from the tissues of crab, lobster, and shrimp shells. On the other hand, chondroitin is taken from animal and shark cartilage. Because we do not generally eat shells or cartilage, you can get glucosamine in a supplement. It is usually found in 2 forms: glucosamine -hydrochloride and –sulfate. It is recommended to buy the sulfate version, as sulfur is also needed by the body to produce cartilage. See the recommended doses below
A Few Warnings
- Stay away from glucosamine if you are allergic to shellfish.
- If you are taking blood thinners or daily aspirin, stay away from chondroitin, as it can contribute to bleeding.
- Lastly and most importantly, make sure that you are exercising your spinal muscles as you take glucosamine and chondroitin. As I always tell everyone: Exercising is what will help get the nutrients to your discs and joints because it increases the circulation of blood to your spine. If you are not exercising, don’t even bother taking these supplements.
The Benefits of MagnesiumMagnesium is a crucial factor in more than 300 processes in our bodies. One of the most important for back health is the formation of bones and teeth. It is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium. It is also in charge of converting Vitamin D into its active form. Having enough magnesium can help prevent osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones). It is also an important factor in muscle relaxation andheart health. It allows nerves to send messages between our brain and nervous system.
SourcesSome of the best sources of magnesium are leafy greens, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Many cereals also have magnesium. Your best bet is spinach, cashews, almonds, mackerel, and dark chocolate. Just 1 square of Dark Chocolate provides 24% (varies between brands) of what we need in a day. But beware, it also has about 145 calories.
DeficiencyA constant deficit can lead to severe symptoms. They include muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, weakness, and personality changes. How does this affect our spine? When muscles are unable to relax properly, the tightness can cause severe pain. Also, if nerves are not functioning properly, this can lead to muscle spasms and more tightness. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, try adding some spinach, almonds, or dark chocolate to your diet. In some ways, magnesium can be considered even more important than calcium! It is crucial to bone formation, nerve function, and the relaxation of muscles. Make sure to incorporate it into your diet as soon as possible. Maybe this can be your excuse for indulging in some chocolate?
Vitamin D BasicsLast week we covered the importance of calcium in our body. As you will see with the upcoming posts, many of our body’s functions rely on different vitamins and minerals to work together. Vitamin D, also called the “Sunshine” Vitamin, works closely with calcium. It helps promote absorption of calcium in our body and is also required for bone growth and remodeling. Bones are constantly being reformed as our body uses up calcium. Therefore, if enough calcium isn’t absorbed, bones can become weak and brittle. Other uses include cell growth, muscular function, and helping to reduce inflammation. Vitamin D may also protect against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases.
Food SourcesVitamin D is found in very few foods. Some of them include: fatty fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel), fish liver oils, cheese, and egg yolks. This vitamin is also commonly added to various fortified foods. For example, milk, cereal, orange juice, yogurt, and margarine. Please note: This is not always the case with fortified foods, so remember to check the label or nutrition facts to make sure that the Vitamin D has been added. Vitamin D usually comes in two forms, D2 and D3. D2 is produced mainly by plants and D3 by sunlight exposure. Either can be added to fortified foods.
Sun ExposureNow this is the part I love. Going outside! Our lifestyles today tend to keep us inside, and sedentary. Believe it or not, you can actually produce Vitamin D yourself, when you are exposed to sunlight! So if you hate fish and dairy products, just go outside. Certain UV rays can penetrate uncovered skin and trigger the creation of the vitamin. It is generally recommended to have 5-30 minutes of sun exposure between 10am and 3pm, twice a week. That is just for us to make a good amount of Vitamin D and weather conditions can affect how much we make. You are more than welcome to spend more time outside, but don’t forget the sunblock.
Keep in Mind
- Having too much UV radiation can cause various skin cancers.
- Not having enough can lead to rickets, a disorder where bone tissue doesn’t mineralize normally, leading to soft bones and deformations.
- For all of you that sit next to a window, sorry but that does not count! UV rays are blocked by the glass in our windows, and do not hit our skin. So, you still have to go outside for atleast 30 mins.
What is It?Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body. It is involved in the function of muscles, the heart, blood, and nerves. Less than 1% of the calcium in our body is used for these functions. The rest is stored in our bones and teeth, and helps with their structure and function. Bones are constantly being remodeled as we use up stored calcium and replenish it by consuming food.
Sources of CalciumCalcium is not created in the body and therefore we must absorb it through foods we eat. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are rich, natural sources. Non-dairy choices include various vegetables like Chinese cabbage, kale, and brocolli. You can also find it in fortified foods. Fortified simply means that certain vitamins and minerals have been added to the food or juice. Some examples would be cereals, nutrition bars, and juices. Orange juice is usually fortified with calcium. Other sources include bread, tortillas, sour cream, and tofu. As a general rule, you should always try to get all your nutrients from food first, before using supplements. If you are unable to get enough from your diet, then there is the option of supplements. Calcium supplements come in two forms: calcium -carbonate and -citrate. The carbonate version is best taken with food and contains 40% calcium by weight. The citrate version is 21% calcium and it does not matter if you take it with food or not. One thing to remember is that the more you take at once, the less is absorbed. For example, it would be best to take 2 seperate doses of 500mg compared to 1 dose of 1,000mg. You can split them up into morning and evening meals. How much you absorb is also dependant on whether you have enough Vitamin D.
Health BenefitsCalcium contributes to bone health, prevention of osteoporosis, and helps with weight management. When intake is low, bones start to breakdown as the body uses calcium in bones for it’s different functions. This is why it is crucial to have enough each day.
Osteoporosis: a disorder that is characterized by having porous and fragile bones. Normal bones have small pores inside. Osteoporosis increases the size of the pores and therefore makes the bones weaker and more prone to fracture and injuries.
Calcium can help with preventing cancer of the colon and rectum. Not having enough can cause bones to become weak and fragile, especially vertebrae.
Be CarefulTaking too much can cause calcification (build up in tissues), hypercalciuria (high levels of calcium in urine), and kidney stones. Milk is good, but don’t drink it like water. Okay? Foods that contain sodium and caffeine (table salt, coffee, tea, etc.) can cause the body to excrete more calcium than normal. I know some of you coffee fanatics might not like it, but lay off on all the Starbucks visits. Caffeine doesn’t just have an effect on calcium but other body functions as well. I will talk about them later in a future post.
- Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body.
- It is involved in the function of muscles, bones, the heart, and nerves.
- Great sources include dairy products, certain vegetables, such as kale & brocolli, and fortified juices and foods, such as cereal and orange juice.
- Too much intake can lead to health risks such as kidney stones & buildup in our tissues.