This article first appeared in Today's Dallas Woman, July 1997

Common-Sense Back Care

Tips that Work

When it comes to our spines, many of us ignore weaknesses or warning signs, believing that back problems are just a part of living. But the spine is the "switchboard" to your nervous system. Each day it carries out billions of messages from the nervous system to every part of your body.

Most people don't realize that daily living can take its toll on the body's support system. The following are everyday activities that can result in back problems:

Icon Poor posture
Poor posture is one of the major causes of low back problems. Many women spend their days hunched over computer or desk or slumped on a well-padded sofa.

The good news is that you can improve both posture and muscles through the right exercise, such as yoga. (Before attempting any back exercises, check with your chiropractor so he or she can demonstrate to you what good posture "feels" like.)

Icon Stress
Even though the days of the 1980s "superwoman" are over, most of us are still expected to be career woman, mother, wife, best friend and psychologist. The stress of taking on all these roles can be felt most strongly in your upper back, shoulders, and neck. Take a moment right now to assess your physical condition. Are your shoulders "tight?" Does the back of your head hurt? If so, you're experiencing the classic "tension headache," which is more often than not caused by a stiff, tense neck.

Their are many remedies for dealing with stress, including meditation, massage therapy, regular exercise and practicing yoga. Sometimes just taking a few minutes for yourself each day can defuse a stressful situation.

Icon Menstruation and PMS
For a lot of women, "that time of the month" means irritability, bloating, cramps, headaches and backaches. Menstrual-related backaches occur when nerves from the spine leading to the uterus and pelvis become inflamed due to hormonal changes and water retention.

Mild exercise and a low-sodium diet (to cut down on bloat) can be helpful in these situations. In addition, many women visit their chiropractors before and during their periods because they find that a well-aligned spine is less likely to cause these problems.

Icon Pregnancy
Backaches are common during pregnancy for several reasons. As mentioned above, hormonal changes can cause certain spinal nerves to become inflamed.

Second, the weight of the fetus increases the load on the spine. If the vertebral column is out of alignment or the muscles supporting the backbone are weak, a growing baby adds more weight to an already unsound back, causing pain and discomfort. The proper combination of appropriate exercise, stress reduction techniques and chiropractic care can work wonders for backaches and other pregnancy-related disorders.

Icon Overexertion
Contrary to popular belief, overexertion is not just too much exercise. Even sitting can tax your back.

Here's a typical scenario: You've been at the computer for three hours, anxious to get that "rush" project done. Your back is starting to ache. But instead of taking a 15-minute break to walk around and get the "kinks" out, you ignore the ache and push on. Or maybe you'll swallow some Tylenol or Advil to alleviate the pain. Eventually the project is finished - and in many cases, so is your back.

One way to alleviate back overexertion is to build the supporting back muscles through slow moving stretches and exercise. Even the strongest back muscles, however, can't support a body that remains motionless for hours. Take at least one break each hour to stand up at your desk and stretch.

Icon Poorly fitting shoes
The fashion industry recognized it long ago -- we're slaves to the latest fad. But those toeless high-heeled sandals or retro platform shoes that look so good can create stress and acute pain in your lower back.

Most chiropractors recommend that their patients avoid wearing high-heels because they cause swayback, which puts stress on the lower back.

If you suffer from bunions, calluses or ingrown toenails, you could be adding insult to injury. Many people with these problems walk in a way that takes weight off the sore foot, which can throw their backs out of alignment.

To cut down on foot-related back problems, purchase the right size shoes, buy shoes made of breathable leather or fabric, and don't buy them if they don't fit.

Dr. Suzan J. Smith is a chiropractor in Carrollton, TX. She teaches yoga classes on a regular basis and has released a yoga video for beginners and intermediates and a second yoga video for pregnant women. Both tapes are available at Borders Books & Music or call Dr. Smith's office for more information.

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