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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Key Risk Factors for Low Back Pain

Suffering from chronic low back pain? Looking to prevent old back pain from returning? Turns out a handful of activities you do and don’t do could be putting you at risk.

Low back pain is essentially any ache or soreness targeted to the lumbar spine region of the back where the spine is curved inwards toward the abdomen. The comprehensive system of musculoskeletal components that make up the lumbar spine area include bones, muscles, tendons, nerve roots, spinal discs, and joints. Any of these can potentially be involved in injury or strain.

Pain typically results from inflammation of muscles, tendons, and joints which puts pressure on vulnerable nerve endings. Additionally, sometimes the spongy pads (discs) that sit between each of the vertebrae and serve as shock absorbers degenerate or herniate, which can also cause moderate to severe pain.

So what are you doing that is putting you at risk for low back pain?

Sedentary Lifestyle
You may have heard the new saying “sitting is the new smoking” which refers to the health dangers associated with prolonged sitting. A new study from the Annals of Internal Medicine has found in the most serious degree that prolonged sitting, 12+ hours a day, especially for folks spending 60 to 90 minutes sitting at one time, can increase your risk of early death. Back pain from sitting might not seem as grave as those findings, however, it could be a more prevalent reality in your life.

When you spend significant amounts of time sitting down, you place up to 90% more pressure on the spine than you do when you’re standing. A hunched, rounded back can lead to muscle tension, pelvic imbalance, and constant strain in muscles and other connective tissues coming off the spine. Experts recommend never going more than 30 minutes sitting without standing up to stretch and briefly walk around.

Overweight / Obese
An astonishing 1 in 3 adults in the U.S. is obese according to StateofObesity.org. In addition to generating chronic low back pain, being overweight or obese increases risk for developing debilitating conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and dementia. There are a handful of indirect ways obesity can cause low back pain including promoting inactivity and altering center of gravity.

When you carry extra weight, especially around the abdomen/midsection of the body, your center of gravity is actually pulled forward. This can impact the way you sit, stand, and walk, causing you to pull forward than you normally should and causing your spine and back muscles to work harder to keep you supported and the aligned. Inactivity in the form of avoiding exercise also contributes to low back pain by preventing tense muscles and stiff joints from becoming stretched and lubricated, which allows for more circulation and less inflammation.

Physical Labor Job
One of the top causes of acute low back pain would have to be strain and injury from physical labor jobs which either require heavy lifting or repeated movements involving the back. Good examples include baggage handling jobs at airports, working in a warehouse, nursing involving lifting patients, or even hauling a growing baby and diaper bag daily like many new moms do.

The continuous bending, arching, twisting of the back combined with pulling, pushing, and lifting of heavy work pulls on crucial muscles in the back causing them to become inflamed, tense, and stiff. In addition to pain, you might experience spasms and limited range of motion. Experts recommend people in these fields avoid lifting more than 50 pounds at a time, wear proper fitting and supportive shoes, consider wearing an orthotic aid like a back brace, do gentle spinal stretches to lengthen and reinforce the spine, and always use help (from others or equipment) when possible.

Poor Posture Habits
Say you don’t have a job that requires awkward body positions or heavy lifting, and that you don’t spend most of the day sitting, could you still be doing something that is causing your back pain? Absolutely. Poor posture habits, either with sitting or standing are possibly the biggest culprit when it comes to back pain. Everything from slouching and slumping when sitting, to crossing your legs, leaning on one leg when standing, and craning your neck and head past your shoulders when staring down at a device like your laptop or smartphone.

The more work your back muscles have to do to keep your spine straight, aligned, and supported, the more inflamed and strained they become. Don’t fret though, there are myriad ways you can address bad posture and reverse those dangerous habits. Fortify the back with exercises that gently stretch back muscles and strengthen your core. Use ergonomic cushions like a lumbar support pillow for the car or desk chair. Sit on a stability ball when working at a desk instead of in a chair, or invest in a standing desk. There are even smartphone apps you can download like Perfect Posture Workout (iOS) and Perfect Posture (Android) that alert you when you need to correct your posture.

This is a guest blog post.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Health Benefits of Volunteering

When it comes to enhancing your own health and well-being, diet and exercise are typically top of mind, however, there are a handful of other activities that play important roles too. Volunteering covers all your bases - physical activity, social engagement, and feeling the positive effects of helping others. Healthwise, volunteering has been shown to:

Combat High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure, hypertension, plagues millions of Americans and is a key risk factor for developing a host of conditions including heart disease and diabetes. When the blood vessels in your body narrow or your heart becomes weakened, your heart must pump blood through with greater force to keep up with the circulation needs of all your organs, nerves, and so on. The higher that force, or pressure, the more stress and strain it places on the cardiovascular system and critical organs, even the brain. Findings from a 2013 study found specifically that older adults who volunteer regularly are less likely to develop hypertension than non-volunteers.

Relieves Stress
While a calming yoga session or relaxing music might be your go-to stress relievers, getting busy helping others might also do the trick. Volunteering has the unique power to help those serving others gain new perspectives and outlooks on life, don a sense of purpose and fulfillment to life, as well as engage them with groups that share their interests and passions. Even altruistic volunteering done largely to make one feel good about oneself can bring about feelings of confidence, self-reliance, and purpose that may have been lacking.

Improves Cognitive Function
As volunteering requires both physical and emotional contributions, it can be a powerful activity for improving brain health. A 2009 study from John Hopkins University found that elderly adults at higher risk for cognitive decline benefitted from volunteering as mentors for young people. Brain scan evidence revealed that crucial regions of the brain responsible for planning and decision-making actually experienced short-term gains and were matched by positive behavioral improvements too.

Boosts Mood
You know that little high you get when you eat chocolate or spend time with a good friend? That “pleasurable” feeling is actually the result of the hormone dopamine being produced in your brain. Turns out volunteering can also stimulate dopamine release, turning your time helping others into a feel-good sensation you will want to get more of. Prioritizing giving back by scheduling time to serve even when you are busy has also been shown to enhance feelings of personal efficiency and know-how.

Can Give You a Workout
Volunteering and service projects which incorporate physical labor can be beneficial to your mind and body by providing a low-impact workout that gets your heart pumping and your body sweating. Everything from building houses to highway cleanups, running camp activities, or volunteering to walk dogs for the local animal shelter can provide a physical workout that helps strengthen your muscles and bones.

Looking for health-benefiting volunteer ideas for the fall?

The beautiful weather of fall matched with an abundance of holiday activity make the last few months of the year the perfect time for volunteering. Fall service ideas include:

•    Volunteering at a fall festival or carnival in your community
•    Running or walking in a fall or holiday charity athletic event that raises money for a good cause
•    Installing fall prevention equipment like shower grab bars, railings, and ramps for an elderly neighbor
•    Serving at a local food bank or homeless shelter during the holidays
•    Walking and grooming dogs for the local animal shelter
•    Helping rebuild houses and communities impacted by recent hurricanes
•    Participating in a highway, neighborhood, park, trail or river cleanup
•    Rake leaves or shovel snow for a local nonprofit or homeless shelter

Where time and budget allows, volunteering also affords you the opportunity to travel and widen your horizons. “Voluntourism” is popular in many countries where people who want to travel and help others are put up for weeks or months at a time and can do a range of things from teaching to building houses and helping the environment. Look for volunteer opportunities near your with free online services like CreatetheGood.org and Volunteermatch.org.

This is a guest blog entry.

8 most common Sleep disorders that plague adults

In this busy life we all lead, sleep is one of the most important factors, combined with exercise and nutrition, that keeps us going. To ensure that we can accomplish everything we do every single day, we must get a good night sleep. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep is the best scenario, but unfortunately it is an impossible target for about one third of the population. Several sleep disorders plague about 30% of the population, all over the world.

REM sleep behaviour disorder is extremely rare and consists of intense movement during sleep. The affected person could suddenly trash about in their sleep and even fall off their bed on occasion.

Narcolepsy occurs when the brain does not control the REM sleep cycle appropriately. This causes a person to fall asleep at the most peculiar moments or spend their days in some kind of daze; stuck in an in-between state where they are neither fully asleep nor fully awake. Bruxism, or teeth grinding is not only annoying for the people sleeping near the affected person, it has significant side effects. The person who grinds their teeth during their sleep will generally wake up with a sore jaw and severe headaches. This condition can be helped with the use of a mouth guard, but the underlying cause of stress should be identified to help the person reach better sleep.

Sleep terrors and sleep walking, although different, are generally more frequent in children. Sleep terrors manifest themselves with the person screaming in their sleep and waking up terrified, having a deep feeling of fear and danger. Adults suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could also experience night terrors. Sleepwalking occurs when a person is walking about while not fully awake or conscious. It is generally due to fever, lack of sleep, or medication.

RLS or restless leg syndrome is a sleep disorder that reaches more than the legs. The affected person has an uncontrollable urge to move the limbs over 100 times during the night. Fortunately, the condition can improve with regular physical activity and diminution of caffeine absorption.

The last two disorders are the most frequent, affecting a large percentage of the population. Sleep apnea can be found in 10% of the population. It happens when a person’s airways, in the throat, get obstructed, therefore preventing the affected person from breathing properly. The brain then signals the person to wake up to re-open the obstructed airway. Far from ideal, this condition can cause side effects such as high blood pressure and constant tiredness. Someone suffering from sleep apnea might not be aware of their condition, but their loud snoring is sure to have been noticed by their partner.

Aside from losing weight, a good solution to this condition is the use of a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device such as ResMed machines that push air through your throat, forcing it to remain open. Finally, insomnia is the most common of all sleep disorders and can be caused by stress, anxiety, depression as well as drug or alcohol abuse. A person suffering from insomnia might have difficulty falling asleep or might wake up during the night and not be able to get back to sleep. Aside from medication, cognitive behavioral therapy might be necessary to resolve the problem.     

For more detail on each disorder, consult the articles provided by the sleep foundation. Because of the seriousness of sleeping disorders, it is important to consult a sleep doctor if you or someone you know suffer from one of the conditions mentioned in this article. Trying to solve the issue on your own might prove more problematic in the long run. Don’t delay and contact your sleeping expert rapidly.

This is a guest blog entry.