(A little grammatical humor for any grammar aficionados reading this.) .
I learned a lot about how to protect and treat my back’s spine and muscles for over 20 years. You may want to read my first post about how it started.
I’ve learned to listen to my back! Knowing I had a weight lifting limit of 20 pounds helped tremendously. I studied the weights of things, so I could learn what was under 20 pounds to prevent throwing my back into the past misery! I still do stretching yoga exercises to pull those vertebrae apart and give the nerves more room when necessary. If a muscle gets pulled I ice it immediately and do gentle stretching when it calms down. Sometimes back rest is vital to injuries.
My Back has my full attention. But all of the therapy in the world would not have helped my back if I hadn’t started heeding Back’s messages. Some of the progress was slow because I had to learn to think about the activities I wanted to do and consider their effects on the muscles and spine of my back. Finally, I learned that if I had to do a risky activity, I had to figure out how to execute it safely or get help. “Divide and Conquer.”
If I have a lot of groceries to bring in, I use one of the carts I have; or I divide and conquer by making two or three small load trips to get everything in the house. For traveling I have a rolling suitcase and smaller bags, which I attach to the handle and roll them without lifting. I can also divide and conquer most any big loads that need moving.
Vacuuming, mopping or repetitive motions like raking have in the past caused muscle spasms or pain immediately or the next morning. My back reminds me that I don’t have to vacuum the whole condo if my back feels tired. I stop and rest or postpone the remainder of the work to the next day. My back is more important than a clean home. I do what I can and have hired someone to do the heavy cleaning.
I am a 70-year old woman. I am not ashamed to ask for help lifting or moving a heavy object. (That took some time to learn!!) But I realized that protecting my back was more important than my pride. I have plenty of family and friends who would help when I need it. There is no shame in getting older and needing help.
I’ve learned that, “If Back is not happy, I’m not happy!” Normally the discs are thick, rubbery cushions between the vertebrae to allow the nerves that come out from the spinal cord, encased in the spine, to go out to our arms, legs, and body parts.
When those rubbery cushions get thinner from wear and tear, different things can happen. In my case I had what’s called bone spurs to form because I have scoliosis which has worsened over the last 9 years.
Scoliosis is a side to side curving of the spine which makes some of the vertebrae get out of alignment, which can eventually cause the vertebrae to rub on each other and make bone spurs.
Some children as they start to grow develop scoliosis. That is why a good pediatrician will check how level the top of the pelvis bones is and check the spine for abnormal side to side curvature.
The bone makes a spur by overgrowing the parts of the vertebrae rubbing against each other. Spurs are the body’s response to inflammation or osteoarthritis. Here is an x-ray of moderate lumbar (lower back) scoliosis. See the spurs on the lower right vertebrae?
Whose fault is this? I wondered at first if I had done something wrong. I carried my purse on my left shoulder a lot. I don’t always sit or stand with good posture. I am definitely overweight which may be putting a strain on my back. What caused this to happen to me?
Since the early back injuries, I’ve experienced more pains across my lower back at different times. I have osteoarthritis in my spine causing the disc injuries that precipitated the spurs on my spine. I have little to no control over the degenerative changes in the discs that cushion each vertebra.
I believe two different factors were involved though. Being a floor nurse for 37 years I was on my feet most of the time for 8 to 12 hours. I also helped lift and turn many heavy patients and carried some pretty heavy things when I was younger. I have always been on the heavy side. When I looked up degenerative disc disease, I found out I am not alone.
We are in this together as we age. All of us who are getting older will have some degree of degenerative disc disease. It’s part of the aging process. The discs already have a small blood supply; as we get older the blood supply decreases. When an injury to the back occurs, it may cause the circulation to the disc(s) to decrease, and the disc(s) gets thinner.
Without the normal size cushion bony spurs can develop; the back may develop curves; the vertebrae don’t line up properly and can lessen the space required normally by a nerve or may cause a muscle to flare up. That’s when you develop pain in your buttock or down your leg.
I recommend first seeing a doctor who will order at least a back X-ray, if rest, ice and physical therapy if the sciatica or pain haven’t significantly improved. If nothing major or deformed is present, a good, reputable chiropractor can do a lot of good for back problems but for continuing problems see a spine/back specialist.
I also found out years after writing this that losing weight makes a big difference in the condition of your vertebrae. I lost 30 pounds over three years and now can sit for an hour or two. I continue to not exceed my weight lifting limit when carrying groceries or other things, just to protect my back.
The best thing to do is to start early preventive care by exercising, good posture and keeping our weight where it should be. I realize this may get worse as I get older. But I will do what I can to keep the changes postponed as much as possible.