Balance and Back Pain

June 28, 2013

nik-wallenda-s-successful-tightrope-walk-over-grand-canyon-covered-by-discovery-channel

After Sunday’s spectacular walk on a 2-inch steel cable across the Grand Canyon, aerialist Nik Wallenda earned a new title: daredevil. His exploits also suggest how important one’s balance is to daily activities – not just survival on the high-wire.  The physicians at Texas Back Institute have first-hand experience helping regular people correct the back pain which can cause a loss of balance, leading to potential injuries from a fall. More on that later, but first let’s briefly review one of the most dramatic walks in history!

Representing the next generation of the famous “Flying Wallendas” family, known for its daring and sometimes deadly stunts on the high wire, Nik Wallenda completed a tightrope walk that took him a quarter mile over the Little Colorado River Gorge in northeastern Arizona. He walked 1,500 feet above the river on the Navajo Nation near the Grand Canyon with no net or safety vest.

This feat was broadcast live on the Discovery Channel and had viewers around the world griping the arms of their chairs for more than 22-minutes. The life-or-death drama was further enhanced by the fact that viewers could hear Wallenda speaking to himself from the mobile microphone attached to the aerialist and see what he was seeing from a camera placed on the aerialist. Throughout the spectacle, he was heard praying and attempting to calm himself as the 40-miles per hour winds above the Grand Canyon buffeted his taunt cable.

After the stunt was completed, Wallenda was asked by the media to recount the things that were going on in his mind during his walk. He noted at one point during the walk he “knelt down and I thought of my great-grandfather and that everything I do is to honor him,” Wallenda said. “It took my mind off all this movement underneath me … and I was able to focus on him and regain composure.” Nik’s great-grandfather, Karl slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978 when he was 73 years old.

Here’s is a brief video clip, courtesy of the Discovery Channel of Wallenda’s amazing walk across the Grand Canyon.

http://dsc.discovery.com/tv-shows/skywire-live-with-nik-wallenda/videos/final-moments-of-nik-wallendas-historic-walk.htm

Lack of Balance is a Big Healthcare Problem

Tightrope walkers such as Nik Wallenda have an uncanny sense of balance. How else could he and the rest of the Flying Wallendas successfully walk more than 1,400 feet on a steel cable no thicker than 2-inches?

Clearly, most people don’t have this superhuman sense of balance. In fact, many people struggle to keep their balance when walking on a perfectly flat surface. Why? Sometimes this is due to an inner-ear injury, but often this has to do with the effects of back pain.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that “in 2000, falls among older adults cost the U.S. health care system over $19 billion dollars or $30 billion in 2010 dollars. With the population aging, both the number of falls and the costs to treat fall injuries are likely to increase.”

The federal agency also notes:

  • One in three adults age 65 and older falls each year.
  • Of those who fall, 20% to 30% suffer moderate to severe injuries that make it hard for them to get around or live independently, and increase their risk of early death.
  • Older adults are hospitalized for fall-related injuries five times more often than they are for injuries from other causes.
  • In 2009, emergency departments treated 2.4 million nonfatal fall injuries among older adults; more than 662,000 of these patients had to be hospitalized.

How Does Back Pain Affect Balance?

As these healthcare costs suggest, this lack of balance is a problem which is both painful and expensive. We talked about balance and how it is affected by back pain with Texas Back Institute spine surgeon, Dr. Jessica Shellock.

shellockCan back pain cause a loss of balance?

Absolutely.  When someone suffers from back pain, there is usually some amount of muscular spasm or imbalance that can lead to an alteration in their overall spinal alignment. That’s going to present many times as a change in posture, such as the patient leaning to one side or even stooping forward. Sometimes on a radiograph we can see a subtle curvature of the spine that’s not scoliosis but actually a musculature imbalance because of pain. When we are unable to walk effectively then our balance will be hampered as well.

Does this lack of balance due to chronic back pain affect only older people, or do younger people have this problem as well?

Anybody in pain because of their low back, whether young or old, can be affected.  However, one issue that preferentially affects the older population is degenerative changes in the neck that can result in compression on the spinal cord.  This can also cause balance problems.

Here’s a quick video synopsis of Dr. Shellock’s thoughts on back pain and its effect on balance.

What are the back injuries or diseases that can cause a loss in balance?

Anything that can cause back pain, such as a herniated disc, pinched nerve, muscular strain or ligamentous sprain in the back can result in a loss of balance.  Degenerative changes in the neck or mid-back that create spinal stenosis, or pressure on the spinal cord, can result in a loss of balance.

How can these back problems, and the concurrent loss of balance, be corrected by surgery or therapy?

Understanding the source of the pain is key.  For example, if the cause of the limp is due to muscular pain or a ligamentous injury, physical therapy to address the problem and restore balance may be very successful. Alternatively, if compression of the spinal cord is causing the problem, we can take surgical actions to relieve this compression. In most cases, physical therapy can correct the root causes for muscular pain and misalignment of spine and also help many patients with pain from a herniated disc. Surgery is always the last resort in patients who’ve failed to respond to these more conservative measures.

Don’t Try This at Home

Walking across the Grand Canyon on a 2-inch steel cable is not something anyone – except maybe another Flying Wallenda – will do. The amazing sense of balance  Nik Wallenda showed was no doubt learned at an early age and could even be genetically determined. Most of us just want to be able to walk down a flight of stairs without taking a tumble.

If back pain is keeping you from maintaining your balance, it could be as simple as working on muscular strength with the specialists at Texas Back Institute’s physical therapy department. If  your condition is more serious, state-of-the-art diagnosis and appropriate therapy from our spine  specialists can have you back on the tight-wire of life sooner than you think!

Back pain?  Try these at home treatments.

Do you know that 4 out of 5 Americans suffer from low back and neck pain at some point in their life? Many factors can contribute to this type of pain including poor posture, previous injuries, muscle strains or even disc degeneration.  The good news is most back pain and neck pain will get better without surgical intervention.

Try these tips if you find yourself fighting back pain or neck pain.

  1. RELAX – As I mentioned above, most back and neck pain will heal on its own without surgical intervention.  Stressing out about back and neck pain will only add to your discomfort.
  2. ICE – Apply a cold compress to the painful area.  Ice can be used for the first two or three days to help reduce swelling and inflammation and acts as a mild topical pain reliever.  Quick tip: You can easily make your own ice pack using liquid dish detergent and freezer bags.  Just pour detergent in the bag, seal tightly (removing air) and place it in the freezer.  You may want to double bag it just to be safe.
  3. HEAT – Once any swelling/inflammation has subsided you may want to apply heat.  You can take a warm bath or shower or use a heating bad to help increase circulation to the painful area.
  4. OTC PAIN KILLERS –For mild to moderate pain over the counter pain killers like aspirin, ibuprofen or naproxen can be helpful in easing discomfort. (Be sure to follow the suggested use instructions and don’t exceed the recommended daily dosage.)
  5. STRETCH – Stretching will help extend the muscles in your neck and back and help release stress on your back and neck.  For your neck, slowly roll your neck from one side to the other holding on each side for 10 seconds.  Repeat 5-10 times.  For your back, lie face down and put your hands on the floor.  Slowly lift your upper body and slightly arch your back.  Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 5-10 times.

Most importantly, know when to seek MEDICAL ATTENTION.  If pain persists, seek medical attention from a physician.  If you aren’t sure what type of physician you should make an appointment with, call us! Dr. Effat Jehan is our triage specialist at Texas Back Institute and she can help determine what next step is most appropriate for your condition.

Jason Brewton, Director of Physical Therapy at Texas Back Institute, shares 5 tips for protecting your back!

1)  The 20:20 rule:  For every 20 minutes you sit get up for and move around for 20 seconds.  

 2)  Flex the hips and knees not the low back when doing functional activities like:  brushing teeth, sweeping, vacuuming,  or washing dishes.

3)  Lift with your legs not your back, squat or kneel to pick up low items. Don’t use your back like a crane.

4)  Avoid slouching when sitting, use a low back support or rolled towel to support lumbar spine (even on couch).

If you look like this when you are sitting, you could be doing more harm to your back than good!

 

5)  If sedentary, walking daily may make a difference in your back health. Park a little further away at the mall or walk over to your co-workers office rather than calling them on the phone.

Making little changes in your daily activities can help you maintain a healthy back. 

Tell us what you do to protect your back!

 

***If your back pain last longer than 1-2 weeks you should see a Texas Back Institute physician to determine if you are candidate for physical therapy to address deficits in:  flexibility, soft tissue dysfunction, range of motion, posture and trunk and core strength.****

All of us are likely to experience back pain sometime during our lives. Here’s our Top 5 list of things women should do – or not do – to have a healthier back and neck:

Click your high heels less often. Yes, high heels make your legs look great, but they also unnaturally position your heels above your toes. This throws your entire body out of alignment. Over a long period of time, over-wearing high heels can cause severe low back and leg pain. Whether you’re traveling, at work or on the way to a cocktail party, wear comfortable flats, then make the switcheroo to heels when the time comes for the high-heel look.

Watch your cals. Try to shed a few pounds for the good of your back and overall health. Every pound you gain can add additional stress to the ligaments and muscles in your back. Extra weight in the tummy area pulls the pelvis forward and strains the lower back, which can create low back pain. Additionally, if you become quickly tired or have trouble breathing during exercise, it becomes harder for you to get the exercise you need that helps keep the pounds off. And if you’re carrying extra weight and wear high heels, you’ll greatly increase the odds for developing low back pain.

Find out if osteoporosis runs in your family:  You’re young and in great shape, so why should you worry about osteoporosis now?  It is estimated that about 75% of an individual’s peak bone mass is influenced by genetics. If you are genetically predisposed to osteoporosis, tell you doctor!  Also know that exercise, diet and regular testing are critically important for you to build up bone mass while you’re young and more able to do so. Young women should perform 20 to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise 3 to 4 times weekly to increase bone mass.

Bask in the glow of exercise while you’re pregnant.  Pregnancy is certainly one of the leading causes of back pain in women. If you’re pregnant, you should do stretching and strengthening exercises for your back before and during your pregnancy – always under the supervision of your doctor, of course. And if you do experience pain, don’t assume rest is the answer or it will be gone after the baby comes. Appropriate treatment can help you receive significant back pain relief during the pregnancy and lessen the chance of having chronic back pain in the lower back after the pregnancy.

Love your big bag but don’t use it like a suitcase. If your purse or satchel weighs more than 10% of your body weight, it’s too heavy – ask yourself, do I really need all of this stuff?  You also need to carry big bags correctly. We recommend you select a purse or briefcase with a long strap that allows you to carry it across your chest. And while we on the topic of big bags, shopaholics shouldn’t try to carry the day’s haul all at once – you won’t miss a sale if you deposit a bag on two in your car and return back to the hunt.

Is your child complaining of back pain? If your son or daughter is carrying too many books, supplies and other things around all day in a backpack, that could be the source of the problem. The reason is simple: heavy backpacks, especially if they are carried improperly, can do damage on everything from lower back, neck and shoulder pains to headaches and numbness.

 

Here are some things you need to know:

  • Your child should only carry about 10% and not more than 15% of his/her body weight in a backpack. Put your child on a scale with and without the pack to do a quick, easy check.
  • If your child is carrying too much weight, lighten the load – carry only what’s needed that day, leave unnecessary items at home and only bring home books that are needed for study that night.
  • Lightweight packs with two wide, padded shoulder straps are recommended. Make sure your child is using both straps to distribute the weight evenly. Be sure the straps are adjusted so the backpack rides in the middle curve of the back instead of sagging low.

Correct:

Incorrect:

  • If your child is using a backpack with wheels, that’s fine as long as your child isn’t stooping to pull it or lug it up stairs.

We all know how important it is for our children to get good sleep, eat well and be safe to be successful in school – and this includes using backpacks correctly.

Spring Cleaning

April 20, 2011

It’s that time of year again—time for spring cleaning.

We’re all brushing off the dust that’s collected over the winter, organizing cupboards and closets, and cleaning clutter from our garages. Before you get too far along, remember these tips to help protect your back.  If you have boxes to move, be sure to test the load before attempting to lift it. Try moving it with your foot to get an idea of how heavy it is.  Use slow, fluid movements, and keep your body facing the box.  Twisting while lifting, can hurt your back.  Be sure you have enough room to safely lift, and bend your knees to pick up the load.  Keep your back straight while you lift. 

Some things to remember

•Don’t bend at the waist
•Avoid using your back as a crane; rather, let your legs do the work
•Lift gradually using leg, abdominal and buttock muscles, keeping load as close as possible.
 
Wrong way to lift items:

Right way to lift items:

It’s easy to run into trouble while reaching for items too.  Try to minimize the amount of awkward reaching you need to do.  Use a ladder, rather than straining to reach something overhead.  Try not to work with items spread across the floor, as this can cause unnecessary strain on your back.  Organizing items at a table where you can sit comfortably, or a surface that is waist-high while you’re standing. 

Lastly, don’t get in a rush.  Take your time, and take frequent breaks from strenuous lifting and reaching. 

These few tips will help keep your back safe so you’re able to finish your spring cleaning!

Your mother always told you to sit up straight, but you do everything but that to be more comfortable because your back or your neck (or maybe both) hurts all the time – and this may be an indication you have a serious back or neck problem that needs immediate evaluation by a spine doctor.

 While most episodes of back and neck pain last a few days and can be resolved completely, here are a few warning signs that may indicate a problem that requires immediate evaluation:

  •  Your pain persists beyond a few days
  • Your pain awakens you at night
  • You find yourself standing to alleviate pain
  • You sit with poor posture to alleviate pain
  • Your have difficulty controlling your bowels or bladder
  • You have a fever, chills, sweats, or other signs of infection
  • Any other unusual symptoms

 At Texas Back Institute, a large number of our patients express regret they lived with pain before doing something about it. A few regret it more because waiting too long allowed the problem to progress.

 Although National Spine Health Day is October 16, every day is important for taking care of your back and neck. While there are many things you should do to protect your back and neck, remember to maintain good posture, exercise and stretch regularly, and take care to always lift, pull or push carefully and properly.

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