Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Tis’ the season for back pain

As we push the clock forward this time of year a reaction of hibernation seems to fall in place. It’s colder, the sun doesn’t show its face very long and we become less active. What happens? We SIT! During the summer months, people are naturally more active. Long hours of sunlight after work gives us warm comfortable hours to recreate or do household activities.

As the sun sets around 4:45pm as compared to the summer sunset of 8:00pm we lose anywhere from 2-3 hours of daily activity. Multiplying that by 7days, gives us 14 to 21 hours of extra inactivity. I believe this is why we seem to have an increased amount of back pain this time of year. I repetitively ask my patients about this topic and they almost unanimously agree that they are more inactive this time of year. They find themselves in front of the television or computer wasting precious hours of activity. Their mind thinks that since its dark, it must be time to relax.

Sitting for long periods of time is a direct facilitator of lower back pain. Sitting creates an increased compressive force upon the fluid filled discs (the body’s shock absorbers) which compress upon the bony structures and sometimes the nerves. This will start a reaction from the muscles surrounding the spine to protect the spine by contracting (spasms). It also creates an inflammatory reaction within the cells which can ultimately create a “snowball” effect which leads to more symptoms in other body parts. If you are older and have degeneration of the spine, your time limit for sitting is decreased. You will most likely have pain much sooner than someone more youthful.

Many people then find themselves reaching for “over the counter” medications or going to their medical doctor only to get a prescription for pain medication and muscle relaxers. If you are given Vicodin (most often prescribed) then you become more tired because of the side effects of the drug (not to mention its addicting status). If you are given muscle relaxers then, well, you can guess how they will make you feel.

Here’s an example of a typical day:
Let’s say that you drive to work every day, then sit at a desk, then drive home only to sit the night away in front of the television or the computer, do you think it’s possible that you will end up with back pain? Most likely, yes…

What to do about back pain:
There are so many treatment possibilities at our disposal to remove back pain, but keeping back pain from coming is the best treatment of all. Daily stretching is a great start for eliminating chronic back pain. Seems simple enough, but you will be surprised about how good you will feel by including the easiest form of exercise (stretching) in to your daily life. You can go one step further by including a core exercise program, swimming or walking around your neighborhood.

In my 15 years of practice I have seen the scenario where people ultimately end up having back surgery because of their lifestyle (or lack thereof). If you find yourself with an increased amount of back pain, then there many treatment options available to you. I practice by the motto of; “Least invasive to most invasive”. What this means is, start with the easiest form of treatment and work your way onward. Going straight to the surgeon isn’t the best option. Be careful of the advice that is given to you by others. What did or didn’t help them isn’t necessarily the same for you. Each and every person’s condition is unique. Find a physician that has a good reputation. Chiropractic is often a great place to seek initial help for back problems. If you trust your medical doctor’s advice, then ask them which chiropractor they trust and use as a referral source.

I feel that our spine was a bad design for the way we use them for. We were born to hunt and gather, not to sit and watch. If you fall into this category and are experiencing back pain, I would suggest repelling against the winter instinct of shutting life down because the sun doesn’t shine. Stay active after dark!


David Sommer, DC, CSCS, RSMT, CSMT

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