Most health care professionals agreed that lifestyle influences have a significant role in the onset or alleviation of spinal pain. Incorporating lifestyle changes can have significant and lasting effect on reducing, eliminating and preventing recurrent discomfort. Though aging is not a factor that we can control, there are a few lifestyle choices which we can change to promote muscle flexibility, strength as well as the ability to recuperate. Besides, it can also diminish or prevent recurring spinal pain.
#1 Lifestyle Change: Improve Fitness Level
Overall, fitness is the first important factor which you must consider since it directly influences the success of treatment of spinal pain. In fact, to work on fitness does not require as much time and work as you think. The North American Spine Society advocates fitness to enhance the health of your spine, as does nearly every other health care credentialing body.
However, based on previous medical records, those who are fit are able to recover better than they did before. Getting in shape does not require a major time commitment or drain all your energy. For general fitness, the American College Of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Heart Association recommend 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week, of moderately intense cardiovascular training or 20 minutes of strength training 3 days a week.
Cardiovascular conditioning includes many forms of activity. Commonly used gym equipment includes stationery bikes, treadmills, elliptical trainers and arm ergometers or arm bikes. You may include any activity that you find is enjoyable and does not seem to worsen your pain. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for those with spinal pain because of the buoyancy properties of water.
Those with extension sensitive conditions such as stenosis, spondylosis or spondylolisthesis may find flexion-based activities such as biking, rowing or using a seated ergometer more tolerable, whereas those with flexion-sensitive conditions such as disc prolapsed, compression fractures, or postural discomfort may find extension-based activities such as walking, using an elliptical machine.
Cardiovascular conditioning also promotes the release of endorphins, your body’s natural pain killers. Endorphins work to moderate your perception of pain and are released after bouts of cardiovascular activity. This effect causes the runner’s high, the ability of some athletes to carry on in spite of injury or illness.
These natural opiates are important because they provide a good feeling that result from the effort you put in at the gym or at home. They provide a sense of well-being after a day of particularly hard or exercise. Maintaining a level of endorphins in your blood stream can help diminish the sensation of pain and lessen the anxiety the anxiety that goes along with it. Cardiovascular conditioning is a great way to naturally ease anxiety and the sensation of pain.
Strength training is necessary for a well-rounded level of fitness. Among the many forms of muscle strength training is weight lifting, Pilates, yoga and isometrics. In most cases, regardless of the form of strength training used, as long as the parameters are correct and the specific activity that you choose does not elicit a lasting increase in pain, you will experience some gain in muscle strength. By gaining muscle strength, you are on your way toward combating spinal pain.
A properly developed strength program incorporates several factors. First, consider your initial level of fitness. If you are a novice, you will make faster progress if you start slowly. Take your time and spend the first 6 to 10 weeks learning how to work out.
The 3 primary reasons that a fitness program fails and you do not achieve your fitness goals are a lack of time, not having any fun and getting injured. You can address the last 2 reasons by simply finding activities that you like and incorporating them into your daily regimen slowly and methodically. If you have been on a strengthening or fitness program recently, you may resume a bit more quickly.
Remember that a weight training program should not cause spinal discomfort, should be fun and should not impose a large time drain on your day. A final consideration in beginning a strength-training program is the type of activity that you will do. Although walking, dancing, golf and yard work are forms of exercise, none offer the benefits of true strengthening that your spine needs to stay healthy and symptoms free.
Loading, or placing added strain on your muscles and bones, provides the benefits of a strengthening program. You need the added load that weight training, yoga, and Pilates offer to stimulate your body to enlarge your muscles, strengthen your bones and release endorphins.
However, do take note that no lasting discomfort or short-term tendon or joint pain should occur after the exercise session. Muscle soreness is acceptable, but tendon and joint pain is not. If you are sore and experience lasting stiffness, stop the weight training and consult your physical therapist or doctor. If you choose activities that incorporate body weight as the resistance such as Pilates or yoga, the same general guidelines apply.
These programs offer the advantage that many of the activities are done in gravity-minimized positions. You can adjust the loading on your spine more closely, taking into account pain and other limiting issues. By balancing your activities over the course of a year, referred to as periodizing the program, you allow your body to benefit from different activities while minimize the likelihood of musculoskeletal pain and strain common with over-use or overloading.
Cardiovascular conditioning and strength training are important components of a fitness program. One often overlooked aspect of fitness is flexibility. Across all ages, flexibility is of particular importance for general health and especially for the spine. As such, we should be mindful of the need to stretch the muscles and supporting myofascia, the sinews that surround the spine and hold us together.
Clinical experience reveals that stretching is the most important part of the program for most people dealing with spinal pain and dysfunction. Degenerative conditions of the spine, stenosis, radiculopathy, overuse and muscle tension issues, athletics-related injuries, adaptive shortening and may other types of conditions respond well to stretching.
Stretching promotes a larger range of motion, reduces muscle tension, enhances circulation and improves oxygen delivery to the tissues by reducing the mechanical constriction of the vessels from the surrounding connective tissue and muscle tissue tension.
The skeletal muscles that move your body can be categorized into 2 main groups. Postural muscles across more than one joint and are prone to shortness. Phasic, or movement-oriented muscles cross just one joint and are prone to weakness. Most often, flexibility loss follows a general pattern, making it easy to predict which areas and muscles to stretch.
By targeting the multi-joint postural muscles in the area needing greater flexibility, you can achieve a symptomatic and functional beneficial in a short time. However, when stretching is done wrongly, it becomes the source of irritation, compounding on the original problem.
In fact, many specialists believed that stretching the hamstrings, the group of muscles along the back of the upper thigh, is important to ease lower back pain.
This is an important part of any physical fitness routine, especially for those aged 65 years old and above. Each year, more than one-third of those 65 and above fall down, making falls the leading cause of deaths and most common cause of non-fatal injury in older adults. The American Physical Therapy Association noted 4 main aspects to minimize the risk of falling, which include physical conditioning, yearly vision examinations, home safety assessments and a medication review with a doctor.
#2 Lifestyle Change: Diet And Nutrition
The importance of maintaining a healthy diet is something that we are all aware of, but it seems hard for many of us to do. Besides, we need diet to provide our bodies the necessary minerals, protein, carbohydrate and fat to use for tissue health and repair. Along with oxygen, dietary intake enables our cells to recover from one’s day wear and tear.
Without the replenishing process, the cells eventually become depleted of the necessary fuel sources. Exhaustion is the first component of tissue breakdown, eventually leading to discomfort, pain and if left unchecked, may results in disability.
Besides, diet also affects the body’s response to inflammation and the duration of the inflammatory cycle. In patients with chronic pain, one consideration is the ongoing presence of an inflammatory process that heightens the transmission of pain stimulus by the nervous system.
Food that contains antioxidants and other inflammatory-reducing substances can go a long way toward helping turn down the amplification of pain signals, ultimately reducing the perception of discomfort. Common anti-inflammatory foods include nuts, fish, olive oil, complex carbohydrates such as dark blue and dark green fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in omega 3 and omega 9 fatty acids.
#3 Lifestyle Change: Quality Sleep
Quality sleep also affects your ability to maintain a strong and pain-free spine. Sleep is the period when the body does the repairs and replenishing that you need to feel rested and rejuvenated for the following day.
Without restful sleep, the body is always in a state of catch-up. Quality sleep helps to balance your hormones, increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones and decreasing the level of cortisol. Children and adolescents need 9 hours, and adults need 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep every day.
Though sleep is not the cure of all problems, but it is a key part of the rejuvenation process and body’s repair. By choosing to manage your daily sleeping time, it promotes physical fitness, reducing degree of stress and improves your diet. As such, sleep becomes productive, allowing for blood transportation and oxygen delivery to the tissues, rejuvenating the body.
#4 Lifestyle Change: Smoking
Whether or not you smoke plays a significant role in your risk for spinal discomfort. Remember that blood flow and oxygen transport are necessary to maintain healthy tissue. Smoking directly affects the spine on 2 specific levels. First, smokers are more prone to spinal pain than non-smokers because nicotine reduces the flow of blood to the discs, contributing to degenerative changes of the discs. One study showed that blood flow to a lumbar disc was reduced by 50% up to 1 hour after the last cigarette.
Secondly, smokers have a greater risk for osteoporotic fracture than non-smokers do because smoking diminishes calcium absorption and prevent new bone growth. Smoking slows recovery after fracture, surgery or therapy. Nicotine heightens pain perception, so smokers perceive more discomfort than non-smokers do.
A component of spinal pain caused by smoking is the lack of oxygen delivery that leads the tissues to cry out for relief metabolically. They need a big dose of oxygen to feel better. The effects of smoking on back pain are cumulative. Those who smoke but quit will have to work to rejuvenate the tissues damaged by smoking.
The advantage of quitting is that you can begin the process of feeling better without the ongoing effects of smoking. You can eat, sleep and exercise to a healthier spine and happier you.
#5 Lifestyle Change: Stress Management
Good stress management is paramount to helping control a plethora of medical conditions, especially musculoskeletal pain. Stress is not a completely negative feeling. Good stress like that generated from activities such as athletic competition, social interaction and hard work toward personal goals is called eustress.
Among the positive benefits of eustress is the motivation inspired by this stress. Eustress can also be helpful in focusing your concentration or enhancing short-burst muscle strength. It improves the immune system and dulls your perception to pain by increasing levels of serotonin in your brain.
Distress, also called controllable stress, arises from our need to control our lives, work, relationship and so on. It helped us plan, organize, prepare and follow through on projects. Uncontrollable stress is the result of events that are beyond our realm of control, such as world politics, an alcoholic spouse, an adult child’s failing marriage, or a noisy row neighbor.
The key factor with stress management is the balance of hormones, When we are continually anxious, upset, nervous, frustrated, or angry, the emotional system produces an abundance of the chemical cortisol. Cortisol acts on the blood vessels, causing the smooth muscles lining the walls of the blood vessels to narrow.
Blood flow and oxygen delivery to the tissues become more difficult in this case. In addition, an over-abundance of long term stress leads to a distortion of restful sleep, an increase of muscle tissue tension, emotional irritability, and a variety of other situations that may produce symptoms. The American Medical Association estimates that stress is a major component in 90% of all illness.
Cardiovascular exercise is one of the best ways to manage stress independently. Managing cortisol and increasing levels of dopamine as well as serotonin through exercise, sleep, diet and professional help when needed can have a beneficial effect on your level of discomfort regardless of the specific source of the problem.
As you can see the above mentioned 5 lifestyle factors, each can have a positive or negative influences on your level of pain, depending on how you choose to address it. In fact, every one of us has the capacity to manage each factor in a positive way. Though it is never easy, it can be done.