The majority of female patients who come to me for treatment of their spinal conditions often don't believe me when I tell them that sometimes, the stress in their everyday lives contributes to their chronic back pain. And if it doesn't contribute to the spinal condition itself, stress can certainly contribute to its severity. It isn't necessarily the stress itself that causes the problem either. It's the absence of a way to relieve that stress. Women, no matter the stage in their lives, are typically the ones who hold the lion's share of obligations to friends, family and others. Because of this, they often forgo taking care of themselves. But doing so can have many negative and long-lasting implications when it comes to spine health. If the above description sounds like you, here are some helpful ways to relieve the stress. It won't take you a ton of time or require a gym membership either, I promise.
Stretch--Did you know that many spine injuries occur within the first hour of waking in the morning? This is often because we try to "hit the ground running" and don't give our bodies the time and focus to catch up with our brains. But when you make a daily habit out of stretching your back muscles, it can help strengthen and support them in such a way that pain can be minimized and in many cases, repelled completely. One way to get some good stretches in each day is to do them before you get out of bed in the morning. Try this one: Bring both knees to your chest by first raising one and then holding the knee with both hands. Then raise the other knee. Grasping both knees, pull them down to the chest. Relax. Repeat.
Eliminate Stressors--I know. This is easier said than done. But you might be surprised to know that some things we think relieve stress actually cause it and do damage to our spines at the same time. The biggest one is SMOKING. Many people turn to nicotine in times of stress and don't realize it can have dire and lasting consequences for their spine health. Studies have repeatedly shown that long-term cigarette smoking is directly linked to the degeneration of spinal tissues and bones. In a nutshell, it weakens vertebrae as well as the structures that support them. If you smoke and experience frequent back pain, quitting now can save you a lot of spinal damage in the future.
Focus on Your Core--When having a particularly painful bout with back pain, most people focus on the site of the pain and look for ways to relieve it. While this can be helpful, remember that the strength of your core and abdominal muscles is very important. Your core is what supports and protects your spine. Keeping it strong with regular strengthening exercises is a must. This doesn't have to mean sit-ups, an exercise most people loath. Strengthening your core can be accomplished with simple exercises like balancing on a stability ball. Pay particular attention to focused breathing and posture while doing it and you've given yourself a way to relieve stress and protect your spine at the same time.
Don't Just Grin and Bear It--Many women think that back pain comes with the territory of being female. It shouldn't. If your pain is waking you up at night or preventing you from accomplishing everyday tasks, don't wait to seek treatment. See a qualified orthopedic specialist right away. I see too many patients who've waited to receive care in the hopes that their back pain would disappear, only to have made the condition worse by not addressing it sooner. Look at it this way, talking to your doctor about your pain sooner rather than later will usually set you up for a speedier recovery, so you can get back to living the life you want — pain free.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, I hope it provides some food for thought about stress and its connection to back pain, especially for women. Try to remember this: In order to care for the important people in your life, you must also take care of yourself.
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