How to Fix Your Back

Over 65 million Americans suffer from back pain. Not surprising given our sedentary culture and how much of the body the back covers. Back pain can occur in the cervical spine (the neck area), the thoracic spine (mid-back) and the lumbar spine (lower back).

I, myself, have dealt with pain in all three areas, with lingering pain tending to occur in the thoracic and lumbar regions. My back started to degrade over my two years of investment banking – sitting 18 hours a day will do that to you. Lifting / cardio-ing / training martial arts at least five days a week for the last 10 years couldn’t have helped either.

I, like many other Americans, didn’t know how to best address this issue. I went to chiropractors (who probably made matters worse), acupuncturists (which did nothing) and massage therapists (many don’t know what they are doing). After finally putting the time into researching and testing alternatives, I have found these five methods that have worked for me:

Lacrosse Ball / Foam Roller

For immediate relief, nothing beats the lacrosse ball for myofascial release. It is something you can use on-demand – anywhere and anytime. It works better than massage, because you know your body best and you know where to focus on. From my experience, 8 out of 10 times when I tell my masseuse about a specific issue, she spends minimal time on it or totally ignores it. On the other hand, you know yourself best and know where your knots are.

If you want to maximize pressure, roll your back or neck with the ball using the floor as your base. This way you are able to use the full force of gravity. The issue, however, is that you lose control as the ball may not always move the way you want it to move.

Personally, I prefer to use a wall. I am able to generate enough pressure against the wall, rolling the ball back and forth on my knots until they release. I am also able to maintain a high degree of control with the ball, whether I am working on my neck or my back.

I also have a foam roller that I use from time to time. Although it is effective for the back, I feel the lacrosse ball works better because I am able to generate more concentrated pressure with it.

This video is a good demonstration of how to use the lacrosse ball effectively.

Stretching / Yoga

Stretching and yoga have been great for me for dealing with back pain. One of the key reasons for lower back pain is tight hips. After every workout involving my lower body, I make sure to do the requisite lower body stretches afterward with a special focus on the hips. The difference in my back is noticeable, especially on the days I don’t do this.

There are a lot of great yoga stretches that provide relief for the back. As a former Bikram yoga practitioner, I am especially a fan of the rabbit pose, the half tortoise pose, the cobra pose and the wind removing pose, which you can all see in this chart from illbefit.com.

hot-yoga-posechart

As an aside, with yoga, be careful with some poses (ex. fixed firm pose is probably not too good for your knees).

Cracking Your back

It’s tough to crack your thoracic spine or cervical spine yourself and I wouldn’t recommend doing so because doing so without a professional can be dangerous. I also question the efficacy of adjustments in those two regions.

For the lumbar spine, however, just sit in a chair, turn around, grab the opposite end of the chair and torque your back until you hear pops or just before you feel pain. Don’t be scared of the pops as these are a result of gas being released from the joints of the spine.

Standing

As I mentioned in my second post, I use my standing desk to get relief when I feel my back getting tight. One of the primary reasons sitting is responsible for back pain is because most people sit with bad posture. Even if you know what good sitting posture is, it is tough to maintain it for extended periods of time. I’ve noticed that it is harder for one to have as bad a posture generally when standing. Another reason for lumbar pain is because hips can get tight with hours of sitting – standing can help to loosen the hips up a bit.

Keep in mind that standing for extended periods of time can lead to back pain so I don’t recommend you stand all day either. It is best to rotate standing and sitting in a way that feels best for your back.

TENS Unit

A mainstay of chiropractors’ and physical therapists’ offices, the TENS unit is the reason I kept on going back to the chiropractor’s office.

The TENS unit works by sending an electric current from the main device to electrodes that you place over the injured area. The theory behind the TENS unit is that it stimulates the nerves in a way that they block pain signals and release endorphins. With the TENS unit, you can generally play with the frequency, intensity and pulse width of the current to reach the right feel for your body.

Here is one you can buy for use at home:

Lifetime Warranty FDA cleared OTC HealthmateForever YK15AB TENS unit with 4 outputs, apply 8 pads at the same time, 15 modes Handheld Electrotherapy device | Electronic Pulse Massager for Electrotherapy Pain Management — Pain Relief Therapy : Chosen by Sufferers of Tennis Elbow, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Arthritis, Bursitis, Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis, Sciatica, Back Pain, Fibromyalgia, Shin Splints, Neuropathy and other Inflammation Ailments Patent No. USD723178S

Whatever you end up doing, I’d love to get your take on what works for you!

Disclosure: Bargaineering may be compensated in exchange for featured placement of certain sponsored products and services, or your clicking on links posted on this website.

 

Me vs. Coffee

Last month, in the pop culture world, there was a lot of brouhaha about Tom Brady’s diet. He doesn’t eat sugar, he doesn’t eat certain veggies and fruits, yadda yadda yadda…one nugget that stuck out for a lot of people, however, is that he not only doesn’t consume caffeine, but also that he has never had coffee!

Shocking? I would say so, especially for a professional athlete. However, professional athletes are not the only folks in the world looking to boost performance. In fact, approximately 180 million Americans drink coffee in order to achieve some goal, whether it be to sit in front of a computer for 8+ hours, drive to and from the office or something entirely different*.

In 2014, I became one of the 180 million. Despite toughing my way through two years of investment banking without coffee or really any caffeine in the years prior, I ultimately gave in as I realized the energy of my early 20s had not carried over to my mid-20s.

For a while, the coffee-consuming me was flying high — I felt sharper than ever, my mood improved and I was able to hit my evening workouts without feeling the mental toll of the day. Sure, I’d have to double or even triple the trips to the restroom, live with a dry mouth, nose and eyes, and deal with occasional insomnia. I’d also constantly feel a bit of paranoia, sometimes checking my email or texts every minute even when I internally knew it was highly unlikely there’d be anything new or important in my inbox. However, the positives still outweighed the negatives.

It was in the fall of 2014 that I started to feel the true pain of coffee. I started dealing with aching joints everywhere, from my Achilles to my knees to my elbows and fingers. My initial thoughts were “Man, I’m just getting old” and “Maybe, I just have to cut down on working out!”

I started going to physical therapy twice a week but none of my joints were really getting any better. I distinctly remember that I was at a point that I felt lost as to how to solve these issues without giving up the things I enjoyed such as jiu jitsu, yoga, running and lifting weights.

At the same time, I was getting to the point that I needed two cups of coffee a day to function — the potential of caffeine addiction scared me. My mom and countless others I know need their morning cup of coffee or they deal with painful headaches. I wanted to make sure I was never part of this group! That was when I told myself it was time to take a break from coffee. In January 2015, I made it through two agonizing weeks of low energy and a constant mental fog but I made it through alive. I also realized that when I was running, doing yoga or rolling on the mats in jiu jitsu class, the pain in my Achilles and knees was gone! My elbows, which have been hyperextended in the past, were not randomly throbbing with pain anymore either.

Hmmm? Was coffee the culprit for my problems? It was still winter so the cold probably wasn’t the source of my problems. Besides stripping out coffee, I had not made any significant changes to my diet. The amount of sleep I was getting was virtually the same. I was also doing the same workouts I was doing before.

As I researched on the Internet, I came across articles and blog posts like thisand this. I just couldn’t find a scientific study firmly stating that coffee causes joint pain. However, whatever I was doing was clearly working. As the months went by, I’d drink caffeinated green tea here and there, but those old pains didn’t return when I’d do so. However, on the rare occasions I did succumb to my office’s K-Cup maker, the pains of the past would return!

Since early 2015, I have drank coffee in rare instances and I’ve enjoyed some success avoiding joint pain while drinking cold brew. However, for me, a day fueled by cold brew always requires melatonin at night. I’ve also tried to cut caffeine altogether and avoid it most days of the week. Yes, it does suck to not feel like Superman in the mornings anymore. However, I am happy to be able to do the physical activities that I enjoy doing. I’m also happy not having drink quarts of water anymore to deal with the dehydration from caffeine and not have to go to the restroom every 45 minutes. So, in the end, on the coffee situation, the costs ultimately outweighed the benefits.

I’m wondering if any of you guys have dealt with the same issues or if you are an “ex-coffee drinker” like me, what you’ve done to kick the habit.

Watch out for a sister post to this in the coming days!

*http://totalfood.com/articles/first-coffee-so-healthy-it-proudly-wears-a-nutritional-label

You can also see this post here.