Four Ways to Avoid the Back Pain Epidemic
When was the last time you or someone you know suffered an episode of back pain? Chances are it wasn't that long ago. It might have forced you to miss work, take painkillers, anti-inflammatories or other medication, or just deal with the pain longer than you wanted to. Wouldn't it be wonderful to do some simple things to try and prevent back pain from happening in the first place? Here are a few easy ones to get you started:
Get adjusted by your chiropractor. Your muscles, bones and ligaments are stressed continuously by normal daily activities: driving, sitting at the computer, lifting your kids, doing exercise and countless other things. These little stresses add up over time and misalign the joints of your spine, arms and legs. The misalignments can then lead to muscle tightness, spasms, joint stiffness and pain. Although chiropractors commonly see patients who are in pain, getting spinal tune-ups when you are feeling "fine" will keep you feeling fine.
Practice proper ergonomics. When you make your everyday activities safe to perform, it will help reduce the undue stress on your body. This includes having your computer work stations at home and at your office set up properly for your body.
When lifting items, use the legs and the trunk of the body rather than the arms. Try to avoid bending the back while you lift. And when sleeping, keep in mind that the most supportive position is on your back with a pillow under your knees. The next best position is on your side with a pillow between your knees and your head on a pillow that is thick enough to span the distance of your neck to the shoulders.
Exercise regularly. Whether it be walking, playing sports or going to the gym, make sure you set up a program that keeps you consistent. Exercise helps the human body in so many ways, but one of the most important aspects involves stretching and strengthening of your back muscles. Often these muscles are referred to as core muscles of the body because they are located very close to the spine.
- Avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits. Emotional stress can cause muscle tension, which can lead to back pain (it also can lead to heart problems, chemical imbalances, an inability to sleep and a host of other bad things). Watching what you eat is another important factor to consider, because excess weight literally "weighs you down," which can contribute to back pain. Quite simply, losing excess weight in a healthy manner will take pressure off your lower back and reduce stress on the vertebrae.
Talk to your doctor about the back pain epidemic and some of the health consequences. Working with your chiropractor, you can go a long way toward avoiding back pain before it starts.
Is Your Hospital Causing Infections?
Birth is probably one of the few events that makes a hospital visit enjoyable, at least after the baby is born. With that said, if you conducted a survey, you'd likely discover that the majority considers a hospital one of the most reassuring places to go when there's something wrong; after all, surrounded by doctors, nurses and all types of equipment, is there any better place to be if your health is in question?
Not so fast. According to a recent study, thousands die each year from preventable - yes, preventable - hospital infections. By "hospital infections," we mean you acquired the infection while in the hospital; it wasn't your reason for going there in the first place, and it wasn't an inevitable consequence of your condition. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine earlier this year, suggests 48,000 Americans (a conservative estimate, according to the study authors) die annually from hospital-acquired infections, most of which are attributable to the use of ventilators and catheters.
If you think there's nothing that can be done, consider that according to Dr. Peter Pronovost, a researcher at Johns Hopkins, these infections can be all but eliminated with simple hygiene measures and a hospital-wide team approach. One can only hope hospitals nationwide are doing everything in their power to make sure 48,000 deaths become zero deaths as soon as possible.
Nutrition & Herbs
The Science of Sustained Energy
Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are known as the energy-yielding nutrients. These are the dietary components your body can actually break down to create molecules of energy known as ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). While many diet plans emphasize focusing on one macronutrient over the others, a healthy diet represents balanced intake from all three groups. Lets take a quick look at each macronutrient and how it impacts energy levels.
Carbs: Carbohydrates are often seen as your body's preferred source of energy because they can most easily be broken down to create ATP. In fact, for several of your body's tissues, including your brain, carbohydrates are actually the main source of fuel.
Simple carbohydrates, such as white bread, cookies, and anything made with refined flour, provide the body with a rapid rush of energy as they are quickly metabolized for fuel. Unfortunately, this energy rush is often followed by a fall in blood sugar, felt by the individual as an energy crash (and of course, hunger). On the other hand, a diet high in complex carbohydrates - whole grains, fruits, and vegetables - can offer unlimited health benefits. These carbohydrate sources contain dietary fiber, which provides a slower release of energy and contributes to feelings of fullness and satiety.
Fats: Just like carbohydrates, fat has received some negative publicity when it comes to a healthy diet. However, fat is actually the most energy-sustaining nutrient since it provides 9 kilocalories (kcals) per gram (protein and carbohydrates only provide 4 each). Fat is also digested more slowly and when consumed correctly, can help provide a steady, slow release of energy and contribute to feelings of fullness.
Much like carbohydrates, when incorporating fat into your diet it is important to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy fat sources. While saturated and hydrogenated fats can negatively affect health, omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in nuts, seeds, and cold-water fish, can contribute to neurological and cardiovascular health.
Protein: Unlike fats and carbohydrates, protein is often touted as the healthiest of the macronutrients. It is true that protein, in addition to providing a source for energy production, is also required for the makeup of skeletal muscle and enzymes. Consuming meals high in protein can support lean body mass as well as contribute to satiety and blood sugar control. Food sources high in protein include meats and poultry, legumes, nuts, and quinoa.
While no one food choice is the best for supporting energy levels, a balanced combination of macronutrients which provide a high dose of micronutrients, including B vitamins and other supportive nutrients, will give your body the nourishment it needs. That's the science of sustained energy. Talk to your doctor to learn more.
Time-Saving Tips to Improve Health
We live in a busy world and for most of us, it's only getting busier. Before you drop to the ground in frustration, take these tips to heart and see how quickly your health and well-being improve:
DON'T WAIT FOR A RAINY DAY Procrastination does little good for your mind, body or soul, although at any given time, the procrastinator thinks they're doing themselves a service by putting something off until "later." The problem is that while you may not be doing it (yet), you're thinking about it and worrying about it not being done, or doing it halfway and the ending up with even more to do. The message is simple: Save time later by doing it now.
YOUR HOME IS YOUR GYM For many people, rushing to the gym at 5:00 in the morning or 9:00 at night doesn't work, especially in the long term. Add to that the daily rigors of work, family and everything else, and you can see why so many people quit working out after an encouraging start. The time-saving solution is to invest in a few simple pieces of equipment so when you don't have time to go to the gym, the gym can come to you!
A LITTLE ORGANIZATION... Lack of organization may be the most time-consuming scenario of all. Consider how much of your life is spent looking for things you put "away" without putting them in the right place. Taking the time to organize your life - from your bills to your garage to your kitchen cabinets to your daily agenda - will save you more time than you can imagine, and you'll feel great doing it.
- COOK NOW, EAT LATER We live in a society that rewards poor preparation, particularly when it comes to food. If you're trying to avoid fast food, microwavable entrees and the like, you'll often end up scrambling to prepare meals after work or while trying to get the kids off to school. Save time (and sanity) by doing some of the prep work on the weekend: cook lean meat or fish, steam veggies, boil brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, and you'll have days worth of meals ready to go.
You've Got to Be Flexible
Flexibility is the ability to move the joints and muscles through a normal range of motion, and it's an important fitness measure; in fact, it's one of the five health-related components of physical fitness, along with muscular strength, muscle endurance, cardiorespiratory endurance and body composition. Here are just a few of the health benefits attributable to a regular flexibility and stretching program: increased circulation, improved posture, better coordination and stress relief.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are six essential guidelines to keep in mind when stretching:
Warm up first. You're more likely to pull a muscle when it's cold. Start off with five minutes of walking, light limb movement or a favorite low-intensity exercise.
Hold each stretch for 30-60 seconds, remembering to breathe. Simply put, it takes time to stretch tissues safely. Go too fast and you could be in for trouble in the form of a muscle tear. For most muscle groups, a single 30-60-second stretch is adequate.
Don't bounce. Speaking of muscle tears, bouncing during a stretch can cause microtears in the muscle, leaving scar tissue as the muscle heals, which will only make the muscle tighter and more prone to future pain and inflexibility.
Avoid pain. You shouldn't feel pain during a stretch. If you do, you've gone too far and need to back off and hold the stretch in a pain-free position.
Stretch both sides. Joint range of motion needs to be as equal as possible on both sides of the body; after all, if only half the body is flexible, the other half can still cause problems.
- Stretch before and after exercise. Stretch them lightly before a workout and then more thoroughly after your workout. Stretching before activity improves flexibility and reduces injury risk; stretching after exercise relaxes tired muscles and reduces muscle soreness and stiffness.
Here are a few sample stretches (again courtesy of the Mayo Clinic) you can start doing right away:
The Neck Stretch: Bend your head forward and slightly to the right to stretch the left side of your neck. With your right hand, gently pull your head downward, stretching the back left side of your neck. Hold for 30-60 seconds and repeat on the opposite side.
The Shoulder Stretch: Bring your left arm across the body and hold it with your right arm above or below the elbow. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch arms and repeat. To stretch the internal rotators of the shoulder (important if you participate in tennis, golf or other overhead/throwing/swinging sports), hold a rolled-up towel vertically with both hands. One hand should hold the top of the towel and the other hand should hold the bottom of the towel. Now gently pull the towel toward the ceiling with your top hand, stretching the shoulder on your opposite arm. Hold for 30-60 seconds, switch top hand and repeat.
The Hamstring Stretch: Lie on the floor near the outer corner of a wall or door frame. With your left heel resting against the wall and your left knee bent slightly, straighten your left leg until you feel a stretch along the back of your left thigh. Hold the stretch for 30 to 60 seconds, switch legs and repeat.
Your doctor can provide you with a complete list of stretches. Remember not to start any exercise or stretching program without consulting with a health care professional first.
Ergonomics & Orthotics
Escape the Ergonomic Danger Zone
More than 90 percent of all office workers use a personal computer, but whether they use it correctly is debatable. By "correctly," we're not referring to whether they know how to download files, format documents, troubleshoot error messages or prevent e-mail viruses from attacking. We're talking about having your computer monitor, keyboard, chair and workspace organized in a way that promotes productive, pain-free work and discourages repetitive-stress and ergonomic-related injuries.
Your Keyboard Height: When you are in a seated position and sitting up straight, the position of the keyboard should be at the height of your elbows or below. Most people will sit with a keyboard height approximately level with their abdomen. This forces the shoulders to remain in an elevated or shrugged position, which activates a large muscle in your back - the trapezius muscle - and can result in a great deal of pain if that position is held too long.
Raising the height of your chair is the easy fix for this problem. Other situations may require a more aggressive approach, such as installation of a swing arm that allows for adjustable positioning of the keyboard. Keep in mind that the computer mouse should be at the same appropriate height of the keyboard.
Your Monitor Height: The top of your monitor should be at the level of your eyebrows or top of your head. Some individuals have to place their monitor on a stack of large books to maintain the appropriate height. If you are having trouble seeing your monitor and maintaining a forward position of your head, it is likely that you will end up suffering the consequences of poor postural position.
Your Chair Height and Sitting Position: Attempt to maintain flat-footed placement on the floor to help with overall balance while sitting. Your objective is to maintain proper posture while sitting by allowing as much contact between your body and the chair. It is important to try to sit back in the chair as far as possible and to maintain contact with your shoulders against the back of the chair. The backs of your upper legs and your buttocks should completely contact the base of the chair.
It will also help a great deal if you learn to sit while holding in your lower abdomen for extended periods of time. This helps support the soft tissue of the lower back, which is actually under more strain in a seated position than when you are standing.
It may seem like an oversimplification, but learning to sit up straight, suck your stomach and keep your keyboard at the level of your elbows and below are easy ways to minimize your risk of chronic and repetitive-stress injuries at the workplace. That's good news to you and your employer. Talk to your doctor for more information.