Ninety percent of acute spine pain is not caused by trauma. Most pain starts when doing normal daily activities. When we ask patients what they did to create their pain the most common answer is "I don't know".
This indicates that there is an underlying process to spinal dysfunction that may exist for many years before your pain first occurs. Small micro-traumas occur over many years and when your spine can no longer compensate, you experience sudden pain. You can not experience severe sudden onset pain in the absence of trauma, without having an underlying undetected cause. You have been unknowingly abusing your spine over a long period of time for this scenario to occur.
Here are some of the most common ways that we abuse our spines on a daily basis as well as practical suggestions for change:
1) Sleep position: Never sleep on your belly. This puts too much pressure on your lower back and neck. Side sleeping is acceptable as long as you keep your neck aligned with your spine and making sure your pillow is tucked tight where your neck and shoulder meet. Using a pillow between your knees will help align your lower back. Do not prop your head up with too many pillows. Another acceptable position is on your back using a cervical pillow to support your neck. If you have GERD or difficulty breathing in this position, we recommend a bed wedge instead of just propping up your head and neck.
2) Mattresses: When selecting a mattress, you want it supple enough to contour to your body's curvatures but firm enough to support those contours. If in doubt, we recommend getting a firmer mattress. All mattresses soften over time and if you initially purchase one that is too soft, it will always be too soft. If you purchase a mattress that feels too firm you can always buy a foam topper to soften it until the mattress breaks in. The infinitely adjustable air mattresses are a great option also. Make certain that you get a return policy if you are not satisfied.
3) Sitting: Always sit with your back up against the back of your chair. If your chair doesn't have a lumbar support you should purchase one from GRC. Never sit with your legs crossed over your knees because this creates unnecessary torque on your lumbar spine. Your feet must be on the floor or a platform if you have shorter legs. When at the computer your arms must hang at 90 degrees with your elbows close to your body or on an arm rest. You must not be reaching for your keyboard or mouse. It is ESSENTIAL that the middle of your monitor is at eye level. If the monitor is too low it will force you to hunch over.
4) Laptops: Laptop computers are ergonomically challenged. The keyboard is too close to the screen forcing you to hunch over. If you use a laptop regularly you must get an external keyboard and prop up the laptop screen or get an external monitor and use the laptop keyboard.
6) Lifting and bending: You must lift with your legs and not with your back. This is accomplished by keeping your back as straight as possible and bending your knees and hips. If you have knee problems, bend your knees as far as possible before bending over. Your leg muscles are much stronger than your back muscles. You also put a tremendous amount of pressure on the spinal discs if you bend forward. While lifting any object you must keep that object as close to your body as possible.
7) Fitness: Getting and keeping fit will enhance your chances of to maintaining your spinal health. At GRC we encourage ongoing fitness. Ask your doctor about a referral to Dr. Kali LaRue, at STAR Physical Therapy.
8) Nutrition and Hydration: Drinking water is essential for keeping your muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints flexible and mobile. Dr. Keeler is an expert in whole food plant based nutrition. Feel free to contact him with any questions.
Adhering to these recommendations will help you recover faster as well as maintain your spinal health for years to come.