November 22, 2012

Stand Up!

Articles by Dr. Erdman are for informational purposes, and are not to be taken as specific medical advice.

We all know that smoking, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol and a poor diet all have detrimental effects on our health. We now know that sitting needs to be part of that list.

Look around at those who have completely sedentary jobs. It becomes obvious pretty quickly what can become of you if sitting a lot is your current situation.

From a chiropractors perspective, sitting is one of the most destructive positions for the musculoskeletal system. Sitting reduces activation of the low back muscles and shuts off electrical activity to the legs. When muscle activity shuts off or slows to minimal, other structures of the spine must work overtime. When you sit in a chair with a slight forward slump, the pressure on the low back discs is greater than any other position, without additional load. The stabilizing core muscles become lazy and deconditioned, and the hip flexors become short and tight. These are some of the main causes of low back pain. The multifidi muscles of the lower back atrophy. These muscles are in direct segmental control of each and every motion a particular vertebra can perform.

Sitting not only causes the discs of the low back to bear more weight, but the compression also increases internal hydrostatic pressure.   This causes tearing of the annular fibers, creating weakness of the disc.  Think of your discs like a jelly doughnut (bad for you, I know). When the baker injects the jelly into the doughnut, it leaves on single hole, a tear, if you will. If you squeeze it too hard, where does the jelly come out? Right, exactly where it has been pierced, just like a disc. Sitting causes drying out due to inactivity, (desiccation) which, in turn, causes the tears to the outer layers of the disc. Continue to compress the disc over time, and it will eventually push the inner jelly like center through the outer layers causing you lots of pain. Loss of intradiscal pressure like this causes the collapse of the disc. Collapse of the disc leads to new nerves and blood vessels (neo-innervations) growing into the disc. That is not good.

Your high school health class taught you every cell in the body gets blood to it, right? Not quite. In adults, discs have no blood supply directly to them. After puberty, the only way a disc can obtain nutrient support and rid itself of waste products is by a process called imbibition. The vertebra above and below a disc must actively squash a disc, forcing fluid in and out like a sponge, in order for it to be healthy. That is why it is important to move. Only movement can do this for your discs, otherwise they dry up and die.
Other, no less significant, reasons to move, are that sitting causes your calorie burning to go to almost nothing. After 2 hours, your good cholesterol drops by up to 20%, and insulin resistance goes up, adding to your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Science has shown that sitting six plus hours a day makes you 40% likelier to die within 15 years, than someone who sits fewer than three hours per day. People with sitting jobs have twice the rate of heart disease as people with standing jobs.

Here is a plan of action if you have a sitting job. Get up every 30 minutes to walk, stretch and hydrate. Set a timer or you will forget. If you can’t leave the desk, at least stand up and stretch.  Drink plenty of water.  One extremely effective way to increase your hydration and mineralization is to make a brine solution, and drink one ounce a day.  To do this, use Himalayan salt to saturate any amount of water.  (Add salt to the water until it no longer dissolves, and leave it sit overnight.)  This is great for hydration of discs and rejuvenation of your body salts after heavy exercise, or for regular maintenance of disc health.  Do not be afraid of ingesting any salt other than that terrible white table salt.  White table salt is the only one that increases blood pressure, Himalayan salt has been proven not to increase blood pressure.  It is good for you.

Minimize your sitting once you get home; take the stairs and park farther from your destination. Do anything to move more.

All of my patients get a series of warm-up exercises early in their treatment plan. These six exercises force full, active range of motion along the entire spinal complex for just the reasons I’ve given. Discs must be squashed and moved to be healthy. The earlier you start these good habits, the longer your discs will last. Even if your back is already “bad”, exercises will help you keep what you still have left. A “blown” disc cannot be re-pressurized, but you can still stabilize the musculature around it, and have less pain.

Give me a call at the office, and I can help you get through the pain, then teach you how to care for your discs with proper rehabilitation and exercise. My motto in the office is this: “Motion is life!”