Are you one of the 65 million Americans suffering from back pain? While 95 percent of back pain can be treated without surgery (Dr. Michael Roizen), chronic and acute back pain can be debilitating. And despite the fact that men are most often featured in ads for back pain treatments, increasing numbers of women experience back pain as well.
After age 50, some women note that their backs begin to hurt. The true culprit? Vertebrae may have become compressed. Whether due to osteoporosis, protruding disks, fractures, or simply weakening muscles, these compressed vertebrae can cause posture to become hunched. And, in turn, you can end up with severe pain in your back due to compressed nerves from poor posture.
Listen, you don’t have to accept back pain as a “part of aging.” Getting rid of back pain is all about gentle, guided movement, especially the type that focuses on strengthening your core muscles. The key to your health and your ability to fight back against your back pain is a mindset that is determined to remain physically active. Healthy habits are the best way of avoiding injury and agitation caused by daily activities in the first place. Strive to establish exercise and lifestyle habits that will help prevent back pain.
Why We Throw Out Our Backs
Many of us sit at a desk all day. When we get home, we slouch on the couch. While it’s recommended we exercise about 30 minutes each day, a study by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that “60 percent of American adults’ waking hours are spent sedentary.” The remaining 40 percent of waking hours include some level of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. However, this number is still extremely low.
Over the past few years, reports proclaiming that “Sitting is the New Smoking” show the ways in which sitting is detrimental to your health. By losing flexibility and core strength, sedentary behaviors can have huge health consequences – especially on your back health. Excessive sitting is also associated with weight gain, which can cause strain on vertebral joints.
Picture this: You’re sitting at your desk all day typing at your computer and talking on the phone. You have a tendency to hunch your shoulders and sink into your chair instead of sucking in your stomach and keeping your core tight because it takes more energy to do the latter. But active humankind has evolved into an upright posture. Let’s not go back to earlier ages by slumping like “lesser” primates over our technology. Our evolved lungs and hearts are much more efficient when they are lifted by proper posture.
Sitting all day tightens the muscles in the front of your legs, but doesn’t require that you actually use your leg muscles. The saying goes “If you don’t use it you’ll lose it,” which relates to your leg muscle fibers breaking down, weakening them over time. You may also lose flexibility and range of motion as connective tissues shorten. Most importantly, improper and excessive sitting weakens your core and back, which is what gives us the aching back pain we’re all too familiar with.
In Younger in Eight Weeks, we went over another key figure in back pain, which can be stress. Stress can cause or worsen back pain. When you feel like you’re under siege, every muscle in your body clenches, including those in your neck and back. If you’re stressed all the time and those muscles stay tight, it can eventually cause major issues, which makes you more susceptible to that aching pain or injury.
Breaking Down Back Pain
Our spines are made of sculpted building blocks of bone and in between these vertebrae are cushioning discs. This allows a range of motion, kinking back and forth. Discs may wear down over time, which is natural with aging. If a disk fails or herniates, it may allow your bones to grind on each other or compress and pinch nerves, which causes shooting pain. The more your bones compress the contents of your disks over time, the more back pain you’ll experience. Slumping forward causes uneven compression of the discs – another reason to sit properly.
In your lifetime, you will probably experience pulls, pops, and tightness in your back. Don’t ignore your aches. When you sustain a back injury, scar tissue will form, which is more fragile than healthy tissue, and it will take time to heal.
For women’s health specifically, estrogen deficiency caused by hormonal changes due to menopause can cause early and late forms of osteoporosis. Although osteoporosis does not cause back pain, this disease can weaken the spine so that it can “no longer withstand normal stress or a minor trauma (e.g. a fall), resulting in a fracture,” according to Dr. Donald J. Frisco.
Regardless of whether or not you’re suffering from back pain due to wear and tear along with the aging process or back pain due to injury, you shouldn’t have to live with pain. There are exercise habits you can form that can help get rid of back pain for good.
The Analgesic Effect of Exercise on Back Pain
Exercise is a common trend in women’s health because it has amazing effects on a number of body systems, all at once, something the CDC calls having “transverse qualities”. We exercise to maintain healthy weight, reduce risks of cardiovascular diseases or certain cancers, and increase our chances of living longer. In addition, exercise has analgesic effects and can help relieve lower back pain.
A very recent study in the Journal of Physiology overviewed central mechanisms underlying exercise’s analgesic properties, and recommend it as a treatment for chronic pain after establishing it in clinical trials. This is because “Opioid, serotonin and NMDA mechanisms acting in rostral ventromedial medulla (RVM) promote analgesia associated with exercise.”
What’s an easy workout for exercising your back that you can do at any time? Wall squats or partner squats work to strengthen many muscles at once. Squeezing your legs, core muscles, and rear end tightly in periods of 30 seconds up to two minutes can help strengthen your back.
When exercising to address back pain, doctors in a study published in the National Institute of Health stress the importance of adherence and consistency. Developing an exercise routine will deliver the best results. And if that means wall squats during your lunch break, then do it!
It’s important to note that you should always be aware of your pain tolerance. Know your body! When it comes to pain levels, the general rule of thumb is that any time your back pain wakes you in the middle of the night, it is a clear sign that you need to be checked by a doctor. Furthermore, many studies show that light activity will not cause further injury. In fact, light activity can put you on the road to recovery sooner rather than later.