Patient education is a very important aspect of caring for patients. In fact, it can be one of the most important aspects of care. For example, when patients present with a brand new injury and pain levels are off the map, it’s quite common for that acute suffering patient to inappropriately think that, “I’m going to die… this hurts so much!” Hence, one of the very first things we do as chiropractors is to determine what structures are generating the pain so we can tell you!
Once you have an understanding of where the pain is coming from and why it hurts so bad, then you can be reassured that it’s not life threatening or dangerous. Also, at this acute point of time, the patient often unknowingly puts heat on the back, often for hours. This is the WORST thing you can do as the area is already swollen and putting heat on a swollen area draws more blood and fluids into it. It’s literally like throwing gas on a fire. So, receiving proper information from us such as, put ice on the area for 15-20 minutes on and off several times in a row to “PUMP” the swelling out of the area will make complete sense.
Also, did you know that 2/3rds of our body’s weight is above the waist? That means, when a 150 lbs (~68 kg) person bends over, they are “lifting” 100 lbs (~45 kg) ! That’s one of several reasons why bending over can be so dangerous. Instead, squat by bending the knees keeping the back straight and keep objects that you might be lifting close to your body as that weight literally weighs 10x more when your arms are straight and you’re lifting. When you can’t squat and have to bend over, bend the knees, arch your back (literally “stick your butt out”), and bend over at your hip joints – DON’T use your back. You’ll need to practice that one a few times before it’s fully understood.
As your back pain improves, your doctor of chiropractic will review these important self-help approaches and add new “tricks of the trade” like certain stretches, some strengthening, and perhaps some balance exercises. Did you know that your thigh muscles shrink just by sleeping overnight? It’s true! When you wake up in the morning, your thigh muscles are smaller than when you went to bed. Well, this same muscle shrinkage (technically called “atrophy”) occurs in the lower back and hips, so strengthening exercises are REALLY IMPORTANT! Just think, if your muscles shrink overnight just from laying in bed, what about when you might have been told to use bed rest for several days or more? There potentially is a lot of muscle shrinkage and weakness that can occur in a relatively short amount of time and therefore, strengthening exercises also need to be taught in order to regain your strength so you can more safely do your activities.
Now, what about back pain prevention? What methods do you think will help reduced your risk for developing low back pain in the first place? That’s right – managing weight! If your BMI (body mass index or the ratio between your height and weight) is >25, then you need to trim down a bit (or more). Go online and search for “BMI”, and pick one of many “BMI Calculators” to figure out yours. So, what do chiropractors know about weight loss? Did you know the chiropractic college curriculum includes more nutritional courses than most medical schools? Your chiropractor will help you find a way to lose weight – whether its calorie restriction, a special diet like no/low salt, gluten-free, or a diabetes-specific diet. Another prevention trick for the low back (actually, the whole body!) is to STAY FIT! Make aerobic exercise and even a light weight lifting program part or your daily ritual.