Living With Back Pain

Back pain can be a debilitating and life altering problem for many Americans. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 80% of Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Most of the time back pain is an uncomfortable annoyance, although in some cases, it may be serious and require medical attention. Pain is usually associated with how our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together.

While back pain can occur at any age, it more commonly effects those between 35-55 years old. Other risk factors for back pain include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, anxiety, depression, smoking, pregnancy, sleep disorders, obesity, strenuous physical activity, and strenuous exercise, especially if exercises are not performed correctly. There are many possible causes of back pain, but the most common is due to strained muscles, strained ligaments, and muscle spasms due to heavy lifting, improper lifting form, or abrupt or awkward movements. For most of the population, everyday activities, poor posture or a bad mattress are frequently responsible for back pain.  This may be the result of sitting or standing too long, driving for long periods, sitting in a hunched position, over-stretching, bending awkwardly, or pushing/pulling/carrying items. Back problems may also be due to structural problems, such as ruptured disks, bulging disks, sciatica, arthritis, scoliosis, or osteoporosis. More seriously, pain may sometimes be due to cancer of the spine, spinal infections, bladder or kidney infections, and shingles, so contact a doctor if your pain is accompanied by fever, inflammation, numbness, pain radiating down the legs, or incontinence.

In most cases, back pain can be treated at home and will not need imaging scans or treatment by a physician, though surgery may be indicated for those with structural issues.  For pain, doctors usually suggest over the counter NSAIDS, codeine, and cortisone injections. To alleviate pain, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, shiatsu, chiropractic manipulation, and osteopathy are also sometimes recommended. TENS therapy (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) may also be utilized; it emits small electric pulses through electrodes on the skin.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid back pain altogether?  Well, there are steps you can take to prevent the onset of back pain. First, adopt healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a normal body weight. Additionally, it is important to engage in regular exercise to build strength and flexibility. Physical activity also helps to prevent obesity, which, on its own, is a risk factor for back pain. It is also important to be aware of your posture both when sitting and standing and to correct poor posture as often as possible. When standing, keep a neutral pelvis with straight legs, stand upright, and keep your head forward. While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knees and hips are level. Your arms should be at right angles if you are using a keyboard, and your lower back should be supported. Next, be careful when lifting. Always bend your knees, never twist and lift, and push rather than pull objects!  Finally, make sure you have a supportive mattress so that your spine can remain straight.

If you follow these suggestions, you can help reduce the onset of back pain and also alleviate some of your discomfort if back pain does occur. Be as active as possible in a safe and effective way, and you can keep your body moving pain free as long as possible!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foam Rolling

Foam rollers have become very popular in gyms as they can be used for all fitness levels for training and recovery. However, many people don’t know the correct way to foam roll or the reasons why they are beneficial. Foam rolling is self-myofascial release, which is a method of self-massage that releases tight muscles and knots (trigger points). The goal is to release the muscles in order to increase elasticity for proper functioning, to improve flexibility, and to reduce inflammation.

Muscles are surrounded by fibrous connective tissue called fascia. Over time, individuals may develop painful points along the muscle and fascia due to trauma from injury, scar tissue, or structural imbalances. These trigger points can shorten the muscle, restrict blood flow to the muscle, and restrict mobility, which causes inflammation and pain and inhibits motion. This can lead to additional problems with posture, joint alignment, neuromuscular transmission, and exercise form, all of which make the body more vulnerable to injury. Further, the surrounding muscles then have to compensate for the weakened areas and may become strained due to overuse. Foam rolling helps the fascia stay mobile, and removing the knots enables exercises to be more effective so that structural balance and joint stability is restored, flexibility is increased, and stress on the surrounding muscles is decreased.

When our muscles are tight, we are often uncomfortable and display poor movement patterns. Our muscles can become tight for a variety of reasons ranging from poor posture, poor flexibility, training, hydration status, stress, sleep, etc. The idea behind foam rolling is to break up muscle knots, prevent knots from developing and create normal blood flow and nerve function back to the area. This decreases recovery time after a workout and decreases the risk for injury. Additionally, a greater range of motion allows for more effective workouts since there are no muscular restrictions. The ideal time to use a foam roller is before your workout as it will increase range of motion and bring blood to the tissues. In addition to foam rollers, tennis balls, golf balls and lacrosse balls can be used to break up muscle adhesions.

When foam rolling tight muscles, you will frequently feel pain which may radiate to another area. This pain should be uncomfortable, but certainly not unbearable. You can foam roll any muscle in your body by using moderate pressure and your bodyweight. When you locate tight/painful areas, you should concentrate on rolling those areas slowly, letting the muscle relax. If the pain is too intense, roll the surrounding areas instead and slowly work your way into the painful area. Do not overwork knots or painful areas, as this may damage the tissue. Avoid rolling bones or joints. Roll slowly. Make sure your form and posture is correct. Using a personal trainer to guide you will ensure that you do not cause more damage and will reach the muscle in the most effective way.

Not only are foam rollers beneficial for muscles, but they are also brain exercisers since the brain and nervous system need to be retrained to correct faulty movement patterns. The use of foam rollers requires complete concentration since they are unstable. Unstable exercises also improve proprioception and challenge core muscles.

Overall, foam rollers are a great tool that should be used by everyone in the gym, no matter their fitness level, to enhance their workout and prevent injury.

To see videos on how to foam roll properly, head to our video category & check them out!