Summer is time for gardens and yard work. I love my gardens, but I know it’s a lot of back breaking work. Many people over 40, that I know, suffer from chronic back, neck, or shoulder pain all summer, from spending long days working in their yards and gardens. That’s not good for our bodies, spirits, or brains.
Did you know that chronic pain can shrink your brain’s grey matter? Grey matter is in charge of memory and information processing. In normal aging, the brain loses about 0.5 percent of gray matter a year, however, when chronic pain is involved, as much as 11 percent is lost in a year! Yikes! Some scientists believe this large decrease in grey matter may be due to the fact that chronic pain forces nerve cells to work overtime.
In testing done by Drs. Bruce D. Dick and Saifudin Rashiq at the Multidisciplinary Pain Centre at the University of Alberta, Canada, two-thirds of participants who suffered chronic pain had a difficult time paying attention and remembering simple facts. Participants in the study were given computerized memory tests, along with a neuropsychological test of attention, on what were identified as “pain” days and “less pain” days.
Scientists compared 26 healthy participants with 26 patients who had been suffering with chronic pain for more than a year. Those with chronic pain had the largest decrease in gray matter. The researchers also discovered that those who had suffered with the chronic pain the longest, also sustained more grey matter loss. Sixty Seven per cent of the participants showed signs of cognitive impairment on their “pain” testing day. Although the sample of participants was small, the findings were statistically significant, according to Dick and Rashiq.
In another study, researchers from Northwestern University found that chronic pain, which is defined as pain lasting six months or longer, caused significant and long-lasting damage to the brain, aging it up to 20 times faster than normal. In this study, the researchers measured grey matter density in three locations in the brain and compared healthy participants to those with chronic pain. They discovered that the chronic pain sufferer’s yearly grey matter loss was equivalent to 10-20 years of normal aging. These are not good odds if you are a chronic pain sufferer!
Starting today, I want you to begin thinking differently about your back pain. Most people that I see are afraid when their back, hips, or shoulders begin hurting. They worry it’s something serious.
But – what do you do when you get a headache? You probably take an aspirin or some other over the counter headache medicine. What about when you get an insect bite? Or a bruise? You take care of it with something from your bathroom medicine cabinet.
Sooooo, when you’re gardening and you come in and realize that your back is sore, don’t panic – take care if it right away!
If you’ve been out in the garden all day, shoveling or raking, here are my best recommendations for relieving today’s pain – BEFORE it gets to be an issue for you.
- Relax those muscles right now! Here’s how. Sit on the floor next to your couch or a chair. Then, lie down on your back, placing your buttocks right against the couch or chair so that your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your lower legs are resting comfortably on the furniture. Now breathe… Continue breathing deeply for about five minutes. In this position, your back is in a completely neutral position. The natural curve in your lower spine is intact and can rest, and all of the muscles that surround your spine join in for some much needed R&R. Ahhhh… a lovely vacation for your spine! BTW – this is the only position where ALL of those muscles can relax at the same time. That’s why sometimes you wake up with a back ache. Sleeping does not relax them all!
- THEN, do a supine twist. Most often gardening, shoveling, raking, etc. are one-sided injuries. Using your dominant arm to perform a task over and over is going to put a strain on that side. A supine twist restores movement in your hips and spine. (Below is a video.)
- Take fish oil supplements. According to the American Chiropractic Association, 90 percent of back problems are caused by inflammation. Fish oil is one of your best anti-inflammatory soldiers! As long as you are not on Cumadin or another blood thinner, you can take 2400 mg in the morning and again in the evening. Make sure you talk with your doctor, first, as other medications may react with fish oil.
- Magnesium is also a guardian angel against inflammation. Most docs agree that the majority of people today are deficient in Magnesium, so make sure you get at least 450mg a day.
And, if you’re looking to discover the source of your chronic pain, and find solutions to keep it from coming back, have a personal plan designed for you by a coach or therapist who examines your walk, looks at your office set-up, assesses how much stress you have in your life, and looks at your physical activities like biking, running, etc. I can design a plan just for you – give me a call! (413-269-0075)
Best of Health,