Sitting a bit crooked at the computer when you work? Slouched over a book while you are studying? Not paying attention to exercising and stretching your lower back? If you answered “Yes” to one or more of these questions, you may be surprised to learn that you could be inhibiting the ability of the disks in between your vertebrae from getting their proper “nourishment”.
The inter-vertebral disks are located between the vertebrae and are ringed with a tough, fibrous outer material called the annulus fibrosus, and are filled with a thick, soft jelly-like material called the nucleus pulposus. When one of these disks ruptures and the jelly oozes out of the casing, the stage is set for chronic degenerative back disease, inflammation and/or impingement of nerves. And this leads to back pain syndrome. It’s these disks, when healthy, which keep the vertebrae in place and keep them from degenerating. More importantly, the disks act as shock absorbents in between the vertebrae. This is of utmost importance when flexing, extending or rotating the spine – movements we all use in our everyday life.
How do we nourish these disks so that they stay healthy?
Early in our lives, they are nourished by direct blood supply. However, as we mature and the vertebral endplate closes, these blood vessels disappear and a different process begins to take hold. From this point forward, a combination of osmosis and imbibition supply the nourishment to the inter-vertebral disks.
How do we achieve a healthy disk (grape) as opposed to an unhealthy, undernourished disk (raisin)? Two areas of the utmost importance are: maintaining proper posture and getting the proper amounts of exercise and stretching for the back. LBP (low back pain) typically is located in the lumbar region of the spine, with L4 and L5 being the most common place. Undoubtedly, you have probably heard of slipped, herniated, shattered, protruding, and crushed disks. These are some of the ramifications of LBP. But what brings on these conditions and how can they be prevented and corrected?
Lower back pain and prevention
The main causes of LBP are weak abdominal muscles, tight hamstring muscles, poor posture and stress. Many times, a biomechanical dysfunction resulting from flat feet is the cause. Also, a simple thing like a worn-out pair of shoes can bring on back discomfort. Prevention of LBP includes a well-balanced exercise program that incorporates flexibility training (stretching) and abdominal strengthening. A pair of good, functional orthotics can correct a biomechanical problem. And, aerobic exercise is known, among its many benefits, to be a great stress reducer. Being overweight is also a risk factor for LBP, as is smoking.
Many years ago, the common thinking on treatment for LBP was to prescribe bed rest. There is now strong evidence that this treatment is ineffective. Numerous studies have indicated that bed rest of more than 2-4 days can start to weaken muscles, actually delaying recovery. The current thinking is that a person with LBP should be physically active. Walking, even if somewhat painful, is considered essential.
• Watch your posture while sitting. Keep both feet on the floor in front of you and look straight ahead. This is especially important at the computer.
• When standing or walking, look ahead. This will prevent your head from hanging down. Don’t slouch your shoulders and lower back.
• Use a comfortable, but firm, straight-backed chair.
• Make sure your mattresses are in good shape. Old, worn-out mattresses can contribute significantly to back problems.
Today, proper posture has become an important health issue. And remember that lack of exercise in general, and back-specific exercises in particular, also contribute to poor posture, which in turn contributes to lack of nutrition to the disks. Making the effort to maintain good posture and incorporating the right amounts of exercise and back stretching into your daily routine will “…add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”