The Creepy Low Back and Spinal Health

The health of your spine and body depend on many factors. In my opinion the biggest positive factors to health come with a commitment to regular physical activity and exercise in conjunction with a good diet. The biggest negative factors to health include high levels of psychosocial stress and especially in the case of spinal health, sedentary lifestyles.

Many people don’t realize that majority of the factors that contribute to our well being are under our control; for example, we can all choose to move away from sedentary lifestyles by participating in regular physical activity. We can manage stress by beginning yoga, meditation or just spending more quality time with our family and friends. A regular course of Massage or Chiropractic care can also be beneficial.

Physiologically, spinal health depends on the ability of spinal vertebras to move freely throughout a full range of motion. Spinal misalignments negatively impact this ability, restricting spinal motion and causing nerve interference. Nerve interference irritates spinal muscles, further restricting mobility. Regular chiropractic care detects and corrects these spinal misalignments, helping restore optimal nerve system function and optimal spinal health. By helping return your spine to good health, regular chiropractic care helps you achieve long-term overall good health and wellness.

Amazingly, over 80% of us will experience debilitating low back pain at some point in our lives and for many of us that will come about by some innocuous movement such as bending over to pick up a pencil or dropped keys. Sometimes these episodes are just a few days, but can also be weeks or months.

I am always amused when I see my patients and they exclaim, “I don’t know what happened! I wasn’t trying to lift a car engine or anything…’. There is an answer to these types of injuries, a loss of viscoelasticity through a phenomenon I call ‘creep’ which induces temporary instability in your ligamental structures.

Viscoelasticity is a property materials possess that when they undergo deformation (such as ligaments in your back when they are stretched while slouching at your computer chair) will return to the original length, like an elastic band. At the same time these materials resist shearing forces in order to keep your joints intact.

One of my favourite discussions in my office are about creep. Soft tissues have viscoelastic properties; when I move my body into positions that are out of a ‘neutral alignment’ my ligaments, tendons and muscles will all stretch to a certain degree. If I hold the position for only a few seconds the tissues will return to their normal state; however, if I hold a position for more than 15-20 minutes some of the elasticity of the tissue is temporarily lost. The result? What I call ‘temporary instability’ and increased risk of an ‘innocuous’ injury, such as hurting your back while picking up that pencil.

So, if I’m a worker who spends my day sitting or a student who sits slouched at my desk all day there will be ligaments in my back being stretched. We think we are comfortable because our muscles are not engaged; but in reality we are stretching our ligaments and inducing ‘creep’, and, therefore, temporary instability.

You’re probably thinking that you are at risk of this thing called ‘creep’ and you’re wondering what you can do about it. That answer is pretty simple, you just have to restore the elasticity back into your ligaments, tendons and muscles and that is easy. What I advise my patients to do is to put those stretched ligaments into their shortest position before they lose the viscoelasticity (sooner than 15 minutes). It doesn’t take a lot, a few seconds actually. If I am slouched for awhile, say at a desk, move your back into an ‘extended’ position, i.e. grasp my hands together behind my back, lean backwards and ‘push’ your chest to the ceiling.

You can engage your muscles, and return viscoelasticity to them by gently swinging your arms and torso from side to side for a few seconds. Sometimes returning your viscoelasticity to normal is as simple as changing positions every 20 minutes.

It is best to be aware of your body and practice prevention whenever possible. Keep your body fit, perform physical activities safely, periodically visit your chiropractor and/or massage therapist and think about ‘creep’. It is never worth it to have a series of treatments for disabling back pain when a small amount of prevention would have stopped the back from ever being sore!

Dr. Martin Barker

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