By Jennifer Lyons, BSHS Physician Assistant
We have a very special guest today! Jennifer Lyons is my beautiful and amazing ‘mama bear’, who also happens to be a physician’s assistant. She spent most of her career in a busy Los Angeles hospital, and in 1996, she was sitting on her rolling stool during an exam when it suddenly slipped out from under her and she fell…hard. She severely injured her lower back and learned firsthand how painful and debilitating a back injury can be. She’s here to share the knowledge she picked up through her experience as well as ways we can all work to prevent lower back injuries, today and in the future.
The back, particularly the lower back, bears much of the body’s weight when we’re walking, running, lifting and engaging in any form of physical activity. It makes sense that lower back injuries, including strains, sprains, and herniated discs, are a common complaint. Unfortunately, many of these back issues can make it impossible to go to work, play with your children, or manage simple household chores.
Although traumatic accidents are out of our control, there are many facets of our everyday lifestyles that can be adjusted to prevent lower back injury and there are a number of ways to manage those injuries if they do occur.
Understand Your Pain and Learn Your Treatment Options
Lower back injuries can cause irritation of the nerves that exit the spine through small openings on either side of the affected disc space. Symptoms of a herniated lumbar disc can range from being asymptomatic to having weakness and fatigue, sharp or burning pain in your buttocks and legs, or, in severe cases, these injuries can even cause incontinence.
Surgery isn’t always required to fix a herniated disc. Treatments often include the use of anti-inflammatory medications and physical therapy as well. It’s important that you have an informed discussion with your doctor regarding the severity of your unique condition and the treatment plans that might be utilized to return you to your best health.
Respect the Aging Process (But Don’t Live in Fear)
Anyone over the age of thirty can attest that aging takes a natural toll on the body. Through normal use, the body experiences wear and tear that causes a gradual change in our musculoskeletal systems. Add in pregnancies, marathons, and toddlers that need to be held, and it’s easy to see why many of us begin to experience back pain! These degenerative changes occur more rapidly when you have a history of injury that may have created misalignment in your joints.
With that being said, none of this means we have to stop doing the things we love most! We simply need to honor our bodies and be willing to do the work it requires to stay strong and remain active, into our golden years and beyond.
Bubble baths and new skincare routines are nice but your daily practice of self-care should also include a healthy dose of exercise, mobility, and restorative nutrition. The reality is, staying strong and maintaining flexibility is the key to staving off lower back issues. Keeping your core muscles and extremities strong helps support your back and the rest of your body. This strength generally means you will be less likely to require surgery or be forced to depend on strong painkillers to perform everyday activities.
And I can’t leave without reminding everyone that being mindful of what we eat is the greatest expression of self-care. Our bodies are different and we all have different needs but it’s important to note that carrying around extra weight is a burden to our system in so many ways, and particularly taxing to our backs. The general recommendation for daily calorie intake is 2,000 calories per day for women and 2,500 calories per day for a man. Just to put this in perspective, a 6-ounce chocolate bar is 811 calories, Dulce De Leche is 958 calories per cup, and a pork chop is 602 calories. It adds up quickly!
This isn’t about cycling on and off of various diets to lose unreasonable amounts of weight. It’s about maintaining a healthy lifestyle over the course of your lifetime; a lifestyle that allows you to live comfortably, to be an active parent, a dependable team member or volunteer, and to chase all of your dreams.
Before I go, it’s worth noting that the eligibility age for retirement continues to creep upward. This means the age at which Americans may now withdraw their full Social Security benefit is between 66 and 67 years of age, and who knows how long this contributory social safety net program will remain solvent? Collectively, we all have concerns about where our country will be in the wake of this pandemic, but one thing is for certain: the healthier we are, the better equipped we will be to meet any challenges we may face in the future.