The stock market is volatile, mortgage rates are unreliable, heating bills are high, the cost of food is up and bank accounts are down. People are spending more time indoors, getting less exercise, eating on the run, and slouching over computers for hours on end. It all adds up to stress, a major player in America’s endemic battle with back pain.
When stress hits and anxiety climbs, it’s easy to ignore the body’s warning signs—a stiff neck, stomach knots, tension headaches, fatigue and lower back pain, to name just a few. Problems seem bigger, molehills turn into mountains, and tension grows. The back stores an inordinate amount of this stress-related tension as the upper body shifts its tremendous load downward. The result is pain and still more stress.
Stress and Exercise
When times get tough and life seems to have an iron grip on your spine, it’s normal to seek the comfort of advice that may be outdated. Medical specialists, for example, used to recommend rest and inactivity for a broad spectrum of back problems. But current research says that’s not the way to go. In most cases, it’s better to exercise and to keep physically active.
So, if the budget needs trimming, don’t start with your gym membership. It’s a long-term investment in your back and a way to reduce healthcare costs. Exercise also triggers the release of endorphins, nature’s analgesic response to stress. It won’t make your money headaches disappear but it may make them easier to live with.
Research also suggests that your mother’s advice to “sit up straight” may not have been as prudent as once thought. Sitting up at a 90-degree angle may put excess strain on the back. Results are not conclusive but studies have demonstrated that a 135-degree (slightly reclined) sitting angle may be better for the back and may help prevent pain. Keep in mind, though, those study participants used high back chairs that supported the shoulders and neck.
Causes and Risk Factors for Back Pain
Overexerted muscles and awkward movements are common causes of back pain. When you lift a heavy object, keep it close to your body and always bend your knees. Structural abnormalities, such as ruptured or herniated disks, also rank high. Spinal disks cushion the spaces between the vertebrae, allowing the spine to flex and to better absorb shock. When a disk herniates or bulges, pressure may be exerted on a spinal nerve. The result is a pain. If the sciatic nerve is involved, you might notice a sharp, shooting pain down the affected leg.
Traumatic injuries, poor posture, congenital abnormalities, osteoporosis and, of course, stress are also factors in the development of back pain. There are also a number of related risk factors, including obesity, inactivity, aging, physically strenuous work, sedentary work, anxiety, and depression.
Relieving Back Pain
When you visit your doctor, he or she will determine your specific risk factors and look for signs that point to the origin of the pain. Disk problems, for example, are usually more painful when you’re sitting or standing, as a result of downward pressure from the upper body. People under 50 are more likely to have disk injuries than people over 50, who are more likely to have pain related to osteoarthritis. Work with your doctor. In the meantime, here are a few tips that might help:
- Keep active, exercise. Continue normal activities as much as possible.
- Don’t sit or stand for prolonged periods. Get up, move around and stretch. If your job must sit in a long time, you should use a support pillow. For suggestions, read Top 10 Best Lumbar Supports – Health Essential.
- Reduce impact. Find a forgiving surface for walking or running. At the gym, try an elliptical trainer.
- When lifting, bend your knees and keep the weight close to your body.
- Keep your core muscles, stomach, and back as strong and flexible as possible.
- Consider visiting a chiropractor or physical therapist.
- Over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen, naproxen and ASA (don’t use ASA for children) can help reduce pain and inflammation.
- Try yoga for flexibility and relaxation. Watch the video below.
- Make sure you’re using the right pillow and mattress.
Finally, listen to your body and pay attention to the warning signs before the onset of pain. A little prevention is often the best cure.