Friday, May 1, 2020

A Healthy Back for a Healthy Life

Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail
Since the dawn of man, when Homo Sapiens first started walking upright, there has been a pain in our backs. 

Today in our modern world, approximately 80% of our population suffers from back pain on occasion, and there are an unlucky few who suffer chronic back pain.

Back pain can hit us after straining physically or when we are sedentary for too long. It can be the result of an injury, poor posture, obesity, stress, or improper lifting techniques. Some women suffer it monthly with their menstrual cycles, and now students joined the list of those who are experiencing back pain.

In the 1980’s & 90’s school administrators had a concern over school security which resulted in lockers being removed from campuses. This decision required that students would have to carry all of their books to and from school and to each class throughout the day in  backpacks that are heavy. Carrying a heavy backpack makes it difficult to stand straight because the weight of the backpack forces the body to lean forward for balance.  

For the first time since child labor laws were enacted in the early 20th century, doctors started treating adolescents for lower back pain. In our current state of evolution, we see a skeletal frame that has a lower back “hinge point” that relates to an array of thin muscles over-laying each other, providing an opportunity for problems.

The true source of a pain free back is strong abdominal muscles.

Strengthening your core strengthens your lower back and the connective quads and upper legs keeps the trunk of the body strong and fit allowing the back to perform at optimum levels. There are those of us who are fortunate to be fit and trim, but still suffer from constant back pain.

My personal experience came in the 1976 when I arrived in California.  With a young wife and newborn child to provide for, I was extremely excited with the opportunity of a new higher paying job. My first week on the job went flawlessly with one remaining requirement, a test for a physical was just as a formality. 

After the exam and X-rays, the doctor asked me how often I experience back pain. Caught off guard, I explained that I never experienced any back pain. 
At that point he all but called me a liar because he assumed that back pain had always been with me.  He informed me that there was a missing pad between two of my vertebrae and that two other conditions developed because of the missing pad.

This is the first-time hearing that I had what is categorized as a birth defect!  It got worse. He continued to explain that if I ever injured my back, I would need spinal fusion. He then informed me that because of my back condition, the company could not employ me for the position I applied for. I walked out of the clinic stunned and disappointed as I drove home in tears to my waiting family. I informed them that not only did I not have the job I just started, how was I going to provide for my family. 

Fortunately, it  worked out in the long run with my employer, when I let them know what the results were, the general manager called me that night to inform me that I would still have a job by reassigning me to work in the front office.
Fast-forward, the medical field has made great advances in many areas of treatments for the human body, however, when it comes to treating lower back pain, medication is still far too prevalent. 

My personal journey to maintain physical fitness and strengthen my back, included martial arts, and yoga. 
Besides being a great body toning discipline, yoga tuned up my mental and spiritual health.

 Now, as I age, I see my abdominal muscles getting lax and I have learned to not “overdo it” physically. If I push a physical activity too hard or if I am behind on my sleep, I pay a dear price for it. But, because of the groundwork I did when I was younger, I can still move freely without too much complaint or twinge of back pain.

The best approach for a pain free back and lasting mobility is well-known and broken down into different components:

1.     Get regular and quality sleep. Consider the age of your mattress. It is recommended to replace it every 7 – 10 years. Remember your whole life rests on it!

2.     Stretch and exercise daily. Raise your heart rate with cardio, but always stretch before and after a workout to let your muscles benefit from the effort that you just put it through. Look at a cat just waking up for proper stretching techniques.

3.     Good posture. Keep your back straight.  Do not slouch, ever.  When you are on the phone, your voice tone and energy is audibly evident to those your talking to when you sit up straight or stand. This is because all parts of your body are aligned to work properly.

4.     Stand more. If you commute for long periods of time, stretch it out when you get to your destination, and please do not go directly to the couch or easy chair. Also, men if you commute avoid sitting on your wallet. It is like parking on a steep hill and you will wear out the shocks on that side of your body, throwing your skeletal system out of alignment. Consider using a “Standing Desk” if you work in an office. Regardless of the type of desk you have, consider taking regular mini breaks throughout the day by standing up and stretching for 5 minutes.  You will increase your circulation and have more energy.

A.    It lowers your risk of weight gain and obesity.
B.     It may lower your risk of heart disease.
C.     It can lessen back pain.
D.    It improves your mood and energy levels.
E.     It can boost your productivity.
F.     It may help you live longer due to the strong association of a sedentary lifestyle with Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.

If you choose a standing desk, remember to take a hard look at your footwear. Your shoes are the mattress of your feet, and in a word “you have everything riding on them”. 

Disclaimer: You should always consult your physician before beginning any health regimen or routine.

Obviously, there is a lot going on with our backs. If we take good care of it, we can rely on it taking care of us.

One final thing to consider when it comes to back pain is stress. When I am stressed or worried, I tense up. Its unconscious and I have caught myself holding my breath when I tighten up physically and this is never good! So, take a deep breath, then let it out. Repeat, but s..l..o..w..l..y  let the stress out when you exhale. For the health of your back, let your worries slide off of it.
Friends of the Pacific Electric Trail
-Dennis Jones Friend of the Pacific Electric Trail
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