Winter and the holidays is an exciting season. Most of us are spending time with family and friends, rushing around and putting up or taking down decorations for the changing holidays.
It’s at this time of year we see an increase in accidents and injuries that have potential to develop in to acute or chronic pain conditions. Conditions such as disc herniation, pinched nerves, and lower back or knee injuries can develop from accidents caused by common actions we take during the holiday season. Therefore, we urge our patients to take extra caution. Here we offer a few things to remember when fulfilling your holiday cheer.
Improper lifting technique can harm both your knees and lower back.
Remember to keep a wide base, bend at the knees (squat), slowly lift, use your feet and lead with your hips.
For people with bad back pain participating in summer time activities and exercises can be daunting. On the other hand, many symptoms of bad back pain can be relieved to some degree with physical activity.
Loads of developments offer a pool as part of the HOA amenities but local YMCAs are a good option too. In many cases your local Y will also offer swimming lessons and water based exercise classes. Water is great for rehabilitation as it helps take the pressure off the joints and enables patients to break a sweat while also taking a load of weight off the body.
If classes seem like a bit of a stretch at this point in your rehabilitation schedule then simply wading water at your own pace might appeal to you.
Caution beach-bound vacationers: Easing into a water exercise regime by going to a swimming pool is usually better than jumping straight into the ocean as tides and waves could put unwanted strain on your joints and muscles.
Yoga has many benefits including improved breathing, strength and flexibility. Contrary to popular belief yoga is not just for the ultra fit or flexible it is for those aiming to achieve mindfulness in physical activity and awareness of the mind and body connection. The fitness benefit is an added afterthought.
Summer is a great time to start yoga if you’ve never tried it before because there are plenty of free outdoor yoga classes offering beginner sessions. Here are a few places to check out what’s going on yoga wise:
As much as we would love to take a vacation from our pain the reality is that our chronic pain will vacation with us.
Here are are few suggestions for those suffering from severe, persistent or chronic pain while preparing for your summer vacation.
Check out the digs before you go. Sleeping on a hotel or guest bed is trying for anyone; however, for those dealing with chronic pain this could mean the difference between sleeping at all and being able to walk the next day. Prepare yourself by calling ahead find out about the size, age and quality of the mattress you’ll be sleeping on. If need be bring your own mattress topper (you can buy a Tempur-Pedic mattress topper online for the price of one nights stay in a hotel) and remember your own pillow if you suffer from neck pain.
Find out where the local urgent care, internal medicine, PT and/or massage therapist is at your destination. You may need to make a visit to one of these providers so having their contact details on-hand will avoid wasted time in the event you may need their services. You may wish to call each of these places to check their office hours and keep in mind that booking a mid-vacation visit to the local massage therapist before you get on the road might be necessary if they are popular.
If you’re travelling long distances be sure to prepare your vehicle for optimum comfort. There is nothing worse than feeling the onset of that pinched nerve or nagging sciatica when you’re only 1 hour in to a 5 hr drive.
If you are travelling by car bring a cooler with an ice-pack ready to go and any topical pain relievers you may wish to use. Plan out your route and take time at rest stops to stretch and move around,
If you are travelling by air be sure to pack light / use a rolling bag to avoid any unnecessary lifting and request an aisle seat so you can get up when and if you need to move around.
Either way you travel taking a warm bath right before you leave the house can help relax your muscles and prepare you for a long trip too.
Sometimes we think that we’re doing everything we can think of to help ourselves and our chronic pain. We’re going to the doctor, going to the gym, eating right and even stopped smoking but can’t understand why we are still experiencing back pain! Here a few simple things that many of us don’t consider, or ignore, that can have a real impact on our day-to-day comfort.
Bad Mattress: The support provided by your mattress makes a big difference in your daily back pain. Spine-Health.Com wrote an article stating that a mattress that does not provide the proper support for your back, “reinforces poor sleeping posture, strains muscles and does not help keep the spine in alignment” all factors that contribute to your back pain. Often you can train yourself out of poor sleeping posture. In my case I’ve found I have a better day if I’ve slept on my back rather than my stomach with my neck turned to the side. Therefore, I consciously tell myself to sleep on back each night and position myself to do this as I prepare for sleep – when I achieve this, and I’m getting better every night, the difference I feel the next day is remarkable.
The way you get out of bed: This is a game changer for me! If you’re jumping out of bed because you missed your alarm or pressed “snooze” too many times and are running late, well, sorry to tell you but this action can put your muscles into spasm and result in some serious myofascial pain. I did this about a week ago and felt the aftermath for three days. Even if you’re late consider that taking a little extra time to allow your body to wake up will prevent you from ruining your whole day.
TIP: One way to calmly wake your body up is to roll over on to your side and use your hands and forearms to push yourself into a sitting position as your slowly swing your legs over the edge of the bed, pause for a moment and then drop your feet to the ground and slowly stand up.
Clutter: Loading your back pack or hand bag with too much clutter means that you are carrying around extra weight, and probably not evenly distributing that weight across your shoulders either. Clean out your bags every evening and don’t lug around unnecessary stuff.
Your posture while on the computer: You’ve probably heard this a million times (I’ve heard it a million times) but this truly makes a difference. Maintaining the correct posture while at your computer, especially if you work in an office, can change your week from painful to painless. Take a moment to check yourself (before you wreck yourself) now.
High heels: Ladies we’ve written about how high fashion hurts before. But remember those Jimmy Choos might look pretty but your spine & back are not impressed. If you’re going to an event where you know you’ll be standing for long periods of time or having to walk a long distance select some shoes with a little more support such as a wedged heel. Additionally, there are a number of gel cushions on the market that can make those shoes a little more bearable.
Your Wallet: Guys putting your wallet in your back pocket and sitting on it throughout the day tilts your hips and results in uneven and incorrect sitting posture not to mention the bulky wallet puts pressure on the muscles and nerves, such as your sciatic nerve, lying underneath. Take it out before you sit.
Tis’ the season to…. CLEAN. Yes, spring has sprung and we’re finally crawling out of our caves after a particularly long hard winter! Crawling out means airing out and cleaning up our cars, houses and offices. With all the bending, reaching, vacuuming and lifting involved in a big spring clean it’s no wonder we see a more acute pain patients and flare ups for chronic pain sufferers.
If you’re planning a spring clean here are a few tips to prevent injuries and additional pain.
Know your limits. For a real clean it’s quite unlikely you’ll thoroughly hit every spot in the place in one day or even one weekend. Be realistic in your efforts and space out your chores or divide chores throughout the month in order to avoid “over-doing” it.
Take frequent breaks and stay hydrated. Spring cleaning sounds like work because it is. All that moving around burn calories and dehydrates you so make sure you fill your water bottle and take frequent breaks. “Stop and smell the daisies.”
Co-contract. “Co- what?” You say. This is a term that describes the tucking-in or contracting of your lower abdominals. We’re not talking about ‘sucking in’ but rather a slight contraction of the tummy muscles. This tightening creates a supportive ‘belt’ for your lower waist and back. This is particularly helpful and important when gardening, pulling weeds, carrying or vacuuming.
Use proper lifting technique. We’ve covered this one before in our holiday blog post. There is a specific and proper lifting technique that basically states; keep your feet wide, squat (bend at the knees), lift slowly and lead with your hips.
Be careful. Particularly if using a ladder or reaching remember to secure ladders and use step stools. Don’t forget to ask someone for help too.
Researchers have recently been discovering the link between stress and chronic pain. Our traditional understanding of pain as a signal being sent to the brain from a periphery, such as a stubbing your toe, is applicable when it comes to acute pain, pain caused by an accident or injury and usually lasting six weeks or less. However, experts continue to learn that for chronic or long-lasting pain this explanation doesn’t suffice.
The brain, being what it is, is a two way system, not only do pain signals go to the brain but the brain sends signals through the spinal cord affecting our perception of pain also. The brains perception of what is dangerous to our well-being and what thresholds and tolerance to pain we should have directly impacts the central nervous system. This impact often leads to the persistence of pain even after an injury has healed. Pain signals can remain active in the nervous system for weeks, months, or even years resulting in chronic pain conditions.
In light of this information it comes as no surprise that psychological factors invariably triggers our brains defenses and thus our perception of pain. One such example of psychological factors impacting chronic pain is stress.
What is Stress?
Perceived inability to cope with an unpleasant or painful life situation,
Non specific response to demands placed on the body,
Internal/external force causing a person to be tense, upset, or anxious,
Stress can be physical or emotional,
Stress can come as a result of threat – whether that threat is perceived or actual,
It is well documented that stress produces physical, emotional, and behavioral responses in a person and can trigger the fight or flight response, releasing steroid hormones and chemicals including corticoid, and epinephrine (adrenaline).
Stress has been known to increase the intensity of pain, contribute to depression and anxiety ultimately decreasing a persons ability to tolerate pain, and diminish a persons ability to cope with pain. However stress is not credited with causing prolonged or chronic pain but rather feeds into it.
Stress/ Pain Cycle
Stress has both emotional and physical impacts often resulting in increased sensitivity to pain.
There are many stress reduction techniques to help you manage your response to stress factors, these include but are not limited to:
This winter we have seen quite a lot of snow already. As we’re forecast for more it’s important to remember proper shoveling technique to avoid back injury or aggravating chronic pain. This video from Fairfax county government demonstrates proper shoveling technique. Be careful out there!
For most of us the holidays are a wonderful time full of food, family & festivities. However, if you suffer from chronic pain or any condition or injury that results in severe pain symptoms the holidays can be daunting, depressing and stressful. One of the most common complaints we hear from patients and pain sufferers alike is that they feel guilt during the holidays guilt that they are not participating or living up to expectations be that their own or someone elses. These feelings of guilt and stress can actually make managing chronic pain more difficult and creates unnecessary anxiety potentially exacerbating pain symptoms. Here are a few tips from around the web to act as reminders when feeling the pressures of the holidays.
Give yourself a G.I.F.T
Healthcentral.com provides a great article focusing on the GIFT principle:
Guilt: Accept the fact that you have a chronic illness and make a firm decision not to entertain any feelings of guilt because of what you cannot do. Instead, focus your attention on what you can do.
Importance: Pick your battles – decide what aspects of the holidays are most important to you and your immediate family. Focus on accomplishing only these things and that way you may avoid overwhelming yourself and creating unrealistic expectations for the holidays.
Family Matters: It’s great to see the extended family, if you can, but it’s important to make sure that if you can’t you communicate this to your family. The only explanation you need is that your health is your first priority and you will join in the festivities when your health allows.
Think Ahead: Planning is key to avoiding last minute stress. Write your plans down, make to-do lists and agendas and make sure you give yourself ample time to achieve your plans.
Avoiding “over-doing” it during the holidays
There are multiple ways in which new injuries can be caused and old injuries resurfaced. Reaching to hang the ornaments, dragging that old tree out from the attic, lifting luggage as the relatives arrive, standing, bending turning, the list goes on. Much pain, particularly back pain, and many injuries can be avoided by adhering to proper lifting techniques. What is a proper lifting technique? Bend at the knees, grasp the object firmly, engage your core muscles to support your lower back and lift up using your quad, thigh and gluteal muscles.
This guide from WebMD gives a more detailed explanation of the perfect lift:
Keep a wide base of support. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with one foot slightly ahead of the other (karate stance).
Squat down, bending at the hips and knees only. If necessary, put one knee to the floor and your other knee in front of you, bent at a right angle (half kneeling).
Maintain good posture. Look straight ahead, and keep your back straight, your chest out, and your shoulders back. This helps keep your upper back straight while maintaining a slight arch in your lower back.
Slowly lift by straightening your hips and knees (not your back). Keep your back straight, and don’t twist as you lift.
Hold the load as close to your body as possible, at the level of your belly button.
Use your feet to change direction, taking small steps.
Lead with your hips as you change direction. Keep your shoulders in line with your hips as you move.
Set down your load carefully, squatting with the knees and hips only
Don’t be afraid to ask for help – it’s simple -somethings just should not be done alone ask for help and offer help to others.
Newbridge Spine & Pain Center treats the symptoms of chronic and acute pain. With three locations in Maryland & a new location opening in Leesburg, VA in 2014 Newbridge Spine & Pain Center’s group of trusted and experienced Anesthesiologists have been treating pain since 1996.
We are all aware, or should be by now, of the risks smoking poses to our body and it’s harmful health effects, particularly as they pertain to increasing the risk of cancer. However, not many of us know or fully understand how smoking impacts pain in the body.
In fact, studies out of Europe, specifically University Hospital of North Norway, suggested that “smokers were at higher risk of acute and chronic pain” and in fact smokers were more sensitive to pain sensations and had a lower tolerance to pain than non-smokers.
A study at the University of Kentucky studying 6000 women showed a correlation between smoking habits and chronic pain stating that women who smoked have more chance of reporting, joint pain, chronic back and or neck pain,sciatica and the list goes on. The study also noted that women who smoked daily had doublet he odds (104%) while occasional and former smokers showed a 68% and 20% increase in reported pain respectively.
Whether smoking could be an initial cause of chronic pain or back pain is unclear. However, these studies do indicate that smoking increases pain and the likelihood of experiencing chronic pain.
How might smoking cause pain?
Smoking affects the cells that line your blood vessels as these cells react to the chemicals in cigarettes your blood chemistry changes. As this occurs your blood vessels thicken and narrow affecting your blood flow to parts of your body including the heart and peripheral limbs. Impaired blood flow has linked to neuropathic and inflammatory pain. [Source http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov]
There is also research that states nicotine kills bone growing cells which may increase the likelihood of such painful conditions as degenerative disc disease and arthritis. Additionally, it has been said that smokers have been less responsive to pain treatments.
An article on Spine Health.com advises that a study out of Johns Hopkins University that followed participants for 50 years concluded that “development of lower back pain was significantly associated with smoking history and hypertension, and development of lumbar spondylosis (degenerative disc disease in the lower back) was significantly associated with smoking history, hypertension and high cholesterol. ”
If you are trying to quit smoking there are numerous resources available. Talk to your Newbridge Spine & Pain physician about quitting smoking, our physicians offer smoking cessation education and can discuss the various prescriptions & options available.