Oh my aching back! Backaches are very common. Aching backs may come from muscle strains and over activity. It can be attributed to incorrect posture, muscular and skeletal diseases, and arthritis. A new epidemic behind backaches is Stenosis, also referred as the sitting disease.
Whether you lifted or pulled something incorrectly resulting in injury, or developed some neuromuscular disease by gene or by side symptom, back pain seems to affect a majority of the population. A higher degree of sedentary lifestyles may gradually bring lower back pains. Those pains are associated with aging. Lately, studies seem to point that variances of lower spine vertebrae compression (due to all those years of sitting) may have thrown spinal discs out of alignment. These can then rub into nerves and muscles. These are the most common roots of chronic back pain. Of these conditions spinal stenosis appears to be a popular suspect.
Stenosis can happen anywhere. It is defined as an abnormal narrowing of a passage in the body. In the case of chronic sitting, the lower discs of the spine narrow and gradually result (in varying degrees) as a cause for chronic pains. Though they originate in the lower back, associated nerves and muscles can extend pain down one or both legs. In Sitting Disease, it is not an abnormal narrowing. It is a consequential narrowing predisposed of lifestyle. The common use of stenosis thus means narrowing happens as a result of the degeneration of both the facet joints and the intervertebral discs. Bone spurs develop (also called osteophytes) that grow within the spinal canal. The facet joints also enlarge as they become arthritic, which contributes to a decrease in the space available for the nerve roots. It is often attributed to aging but views are emerging stenosis results from an enduring amount of time. It hurts!!
Back pain is often ignored by many or viewed as a natural symptom of aging as the bones weaken and get “tired”. It is valid to see more people over 50 complaining about back pain. For some, osteoporosis (a weakening of bones) accumulate spinal compression fractures, over many years. Some of these may be painful while others may be contributing causes of death. Stenosis may not necessarily be associated with osteoporosis. Stenosis is a narrowing of a channel that results in misalignment. Osteoporosis is a general weakening of the bones and the mechanisms associated with bone health.
People with osteoporosis may have a chronic condition that weakens and fractures bones throughout the body. Stenosis is due to a chronic condition that compresses the lower part of your spine. The spine of the lower back is known as the lumbar spine. It contains 5 vertebral bones, the sacrum, and the coccyx that protect the vertebral column at the base. More people over the past decades have been complaining about aches stemming from this area. Why?
In the past 100 years, manual labor has shifted to offices. For the most part, these sit at desks at least 7 or 8 hours per day. In the past 60 years, commuting to work and back meant driving a car or sitting on public transportation. Also, television and computers increase sitting at home over long leisure hours. Students also sit at desks in school and when doing homework, in addition to TV. Gravity pulls the spinal vertebrae down over many years. The result is compressed lower spine issues. One of those is stenosis, and sitting too long may be a prime cause.
New stidies suggest that the more people sit each day, the greater their risk for chronic health problems, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Stenosis is only one. Poor eating habits and lack of exercise may lead to obesity and poor cardiovascular conditions.
Based on current data, about 1 out of 200 people over the age of 50 is likely to have spinal stenosis. Reports tend to predict that the ratio may actually rise to 1 our of a 100. Perhaps better radiologic imaging (magnetic resonance) helps detect this source of back pain and that increases incidence over the general population. According to the National Institutes of Health, “About 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes.” A percentage of about 20% may have acute or chronic back pain issues that span from months to lifetimes.
The numbers seem to be clear. Any major pharmacy devotes at least one aisle to analgesics and accessories to help reduce lower back pain. It could be arthritis, or rheumatism. The widest scope from radiology is compressed fractures and spinal stenosis.
TV ads extol surgery and injections as possible cures but all have possible side effects. Perhaps the best avenue might be physical therapy.
Physical therapy, under a physician’s advisement and monitoring, may be helpful but requires a level of proactivity and follow-through that many people don’t pursue. Sometimes these therapists develop certain activity plans that don’t necessarily take into account the underlying disease.
It is common sense to routinely stretch, walk, and moderately exercise through your lifetime but few commit. Physical therapy requires multiple visits per week with home exercise. The treatment seems long.
Recurring back pain resulting from improper body mechanics is often preventable by avoiding movements that jolt or strain the back, maintaining correct posture, and lifting objects properly. Some of these are the results of poor learning while some may result from underlying conditions.
For some, low-impact, disciplined, stretching exercises such as Yoga or Tai Chi is recommended but, like physical therapy, take an easy class twice a week. Yet, where pain is significant, physical therapy under a doctor’s prescription, helps target the fundamental areas. Yoga may be used to follow the course of your treatment.
Spinal stenosis may be extremely painful. Check out your lower back pain with a competent neurologist, orthopedist, or pain-management professional. Stenosis and associated pain are products of prolonged inactivity.
According to the National Institute of Health:
Following any period of prolonged inactivity, a regimen of low-impact exercises is advised. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes daily can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Consult a physician for a list of low-impact, age-appropriate exercises that are specifically targeted to strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles.
1) Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
2) Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. The lower back can support a person’s weight most easily when the curvature is reduced. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet.
3) At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height.
4) Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
5) Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. High heels, over prolonged hours of use, may hurt feet and back
6) Sleeping on one’s side with the knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.
7) Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy. Lift from the knees, pull the stomach muscles in, and keep the head down and in line with a straight back. When lifting, keep objects close to the body. Do not twist when lifting.
8) Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight gain, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles. A diet with sufficient daily intake of calcium, phosphorus, and vitamin D helps to promote new bone growth.
For those people in the normal range, without other underlying diseases, avoiding spinal stenosis and lower back pain only requires some very often published common sense. Then again, many people just aren’t very sensible.
If Sigmund Freud or B.F. Skinner were alive today, he might describe lower back pain sufferers as latent masochists that deny pain by virtue of self-harm. Lower back pain is not due to a process of learned helplessness but the acceptance seems unavoidable. Take the pills and take the shots to relieve pain. Stenosis sufferers might find the most reasonable treatment mode is disciplined movement. The narrowing channel results from what we did (or didn’t do) in the past and the pain treatment is the impetus to help us learn to move within the context of the new spinal formation.
Vascular narrowing can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Respiratory narrowing leads to breathing dysfunction. Digestive narrowing leads to digestive problems. Spinal narrowing leads to lower back pain. All are treatable.
Is it easy? No. Sitting disease is addictive. Increased pain doesn’t always have to correlate with age. If you can move, demand and follow through with some form of guided activity from a physical medicine professional. You needn’t passively accept the pain that narrows your living options. There are approaches that, in may cases, deliver help.
Physical medicine specialists often work as teams. The network approach provides special braces and supports that aid movement when movement is difficult. There are progressive external devices called orthotics that help aid movement when motion is impossible or extremely painful.
Sitting disease, stenosis, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and diseases like muscular dystrophy may result in high local and general pains. I think, where the is no cure, finding ways to move to alleviate some if not all pain may be one key to avoid the risks of drugs and surgery.
While stenosis supposes back pains, sitting in pain doesn’t really amount to much satisfaction. Sitting disease results from many years of doing something. Now you are forced to try something else.