As last Friday marked World Spine Day, Dev Goswami & Pooja Salvi tell you all about the bones that are the reason you’re standing tall — literally
Back pain was once a condition that afflicted the old — the innumerable jokes that link a backache to old age are proof enough of this. But, if you’re in your 20s, you won’t be the butt of jokes anymore for frequently experiencing back pain. We’re sure that even you’ve experienced it on occasion — perhaps when you thought you could play an hour of football or after a rigorous spring cleaning session. It’s very important to keep your spine in good shape to avoid health problems in the future. October 16 was World Spine Day, but you should spend every day caring for your spine. Read on to find out more about this year’s theme and explore the various aspects of spine health that you should be aware of.
What is World Spine Day all about?
The theme for World Spine Day (WSD) this year is Your Back at Work, focusing on the importance of good spine health and the prevention of injuries at work. Back pain, neck pain and spinal disorders such as scoliosis and disc disease are pretty common and can have a profound effect on your overall health. Research has shown that poor posture and inactivity can lead to the development of back pain and spinal disorders.
Habits that lead to spinal problems
The most common mistake is sitting in the same posture through the day. Dr. Shantanu Sharma, senior spine specialist, Qi Spine Clinic, says, “Maintaining the same posture for a long period of time is a common mistake and can have adverse effects — whether you’re sitting or standing.” Here are some common habits that you need to avoid or change.
- You wear high heels quite often. This leads to foot instability and can lead to back pain. High heels force you to arch your back, making your spinal muscles work harder. Backless shoes such as sandals cause your feet to move from side to side, which distributes your body weight unevenly and causes pain.
- You don’t stretch . Stretching is important and can be very good for your back.
- You’re a desk jockey. You spend way too much time at your desk working away at your computer. This tenses your back muscles and weakens them over time, because they aren’t used frequently.
- Frequently skipping your workout can leave your back muscles sore, which can lead to pain.
- You put a lot of pressure on your back by filling your bag with several heavy objects. When you carry a heavy bag, your shoulders begin to sway unevenly and become imbalanced.
- You ignore the initial signs of back pain.
Damage in the long run
Even the slightest sign of back pain could indicate the beginning of something potentially dangerous. Your spine is an S-shaped curve, but bad posture can damage the natural structure, leading to chronic back pain and disc problems. Dr. Shantanu explains, “The disc derives its nutrition from movement. And, if we sit in one position for too long, this lack of movement can lead to early degeneration of the discs and spine. Bad posture also puts undue stress on your muscles.” Here are a few things that you need to avoid.
- Sitting for long hours Make sure that your office chair supports the natural curve of your spine. Your lower back should be supported, and your head should be straight — not lurching forward or upward — when you look at your computer screen. Get up and walk around for a few minutes every half hour — take trips to get water, use the bathroom or simply go on a short walk around the office.
- Bad diet A back-healthy diet is one that reduces inflammation. Avoid drinking too much coffee and stay away from processed foods. Instead, consume whole grains, soy, nuts and seeds, protein (chicken, fish, and lean meat), vegetables and fruit.
- Carrying a heavy bag Keep your bag as light as possible — your bag should ideally only weigh about 10% of your body weight. Also, avoid slinging your bag over one shoulder.
- Wearing high heels You don’t have to avoid trendy footwear — just don’t walk long distances in them. Wear comfortable flats or supportive sneakers, and add cushioning inserts to your uncomfortable shoes.
LIVING WITH CHRONIC PAIN
Chronic pain — whether it’s of the back or any other body part — can be debilitating. Apart from daily hardships that you face while performing physical tasks, it can also impact you psychologically, and, in a dangerous circle, negative emotions may actually aggravate chronic pain. Your doctor will suggest a management plan, but keep these tips in mind as well — they will make your life easier and help you live with the pain.
- Learning to relax is one of the most important aspects of dealing with chronic back pain. When you experience the pain kicking in, take deep breaths. It helps to visualise your breath reaching the area where you’re experiencing pain — it may not actually cure the pain, but it will relax your muscles and prevent the pain from throwing your life completely out of gear.
- As we mentioned before, negative thoughts are your worst enemy when it comes to chronic pain. And, this is especially important while performing physical tasks. Of course, positive thoughts alone won’t allow you to do just about anything — performing lunges with weights when you have a raging backache may not be the best idea — but balking at the thought of climbing a flight of stairs is just going to make you feel powerless when you’re faced with demanding tasks. What you can and cannot do will differ from person to person, and it will take a while for you to know your limits. But, remember that giving up is the worst thing.
- Understand the role that your lifestyle plays. Hidden among the various habits and actions that you perform every day are triggers that can make your pain act up. Learn to recognise what affects you adversely and, obviously, steer clear of such stimuli. Common triggers include bad posture and habits such as smoking.
- The last point that needs to be mentioned is about keeping an open mind. At the risk of sounding dramatic, some of the most exciting advancements are being made in the world of medicine today. Therapy such as acupressure and acupuncture, that was once considered to be old wives’ tales, have now been shown to be effective in treating pain. The prudent way to go about this is to get a second opinion and educate yourself on the different aspects of your problem. Finally, and we shouldn’t have to say this, remember that for every new magical treatment out there, there are several that are not only completely ineffective, but also dangerous. So, tread with caution and listen to your doctor.
THE NEED FOR BACK SURGERY
You may need surgery to cure you of your back pain. However, the chances of you needing it is very low. Dr. Shantanu tells us, “Research has shown that only 1% of people with back pain require surgery, so it’s not the only alternative. Working on the cause of your pain and removing the root cause is the best solution.” He adds, “The real cause of back pain is usually a muscle imbalance, which results in a disc bulge. That muscle imbalance needs to be corrected, which is something that is not achieved in a surgery.”
Chronic back pain
Medical advice on the internet usually plays fast and loose with the actual severity of a disease. The term chronic is a good example of this. It’s used often to describe any medical problem that seems difficult to manage. Medically speaking, chronic is used for diseases that last for a more than a few months. So, yes, chronic back pain is definitely an issue and it’s a pretty serious one, but isn’t as simple as it sounds.
One of the main reasons you may suffer from chronic back pain is pretty easy to understand — an injury or condition so extensive and damaging that conservative treatments such as medication and physiotherapy has no effect. Apart from sustaining an injury, spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis can result in pain that won’t go away until the actual problem is treatment. If the situation becomes chronic — you haven’t gotten relief even after months of conventional treatment — then you may need to go in for surgery to treat/ repair your spinal structure.
However, it’s something else completely that makes the situation dicey — you may experience pain even after the tissue that was originally damaged/ injured has healed. This is because of errant nerve endings that send pain signals to your brain for no apparent reason. Essentially, the pain becomes an actual disease instead of being a symptom. And to make things worse, not much is understood about this type of chronic pain, which means that there’s no list of best treatments to manage this type of pain. You will need to rely on your doctor’s advice. He/she will come up with a personalised plan of action to reduce and ultimately treat your pain.