Get Your Spine Summer Ready!
You may be ready to welcome summer, but is your back? Taking a few precautions now, such as staying on track with your chiropractic adjustments, will help you ensure you’re ready to experience all the fun the season offers.
Is Your Spine Properly Aligned? If Not, You May Be at Risk for Back Pain
Summer is the perfect time to try a new hobby or sport, transform your yard into a gardener’s paradise, or brush up on your tennis skills. Unfortunately, the summer activities you enjoy can spell trouble for your back, particularly if you haven’t been very active during the winter.
Although injuries rise during the entire summer, hospitals see a sharp increase in emergency room visits on July 4 and 5, according to the Pew Research Center. Some of the visits are due to firework injuries, but sports- and exercise-related injuries and falls also bring people to the emergency room.
It’s impossible to prevent injuries completely, but you can reduce your risk of back pain if your spine is properly aligned. Inactivity, poor posture, falls, sports injuries, and even stress can cause subluxations in your spine. Subluxations occur when one or more vertebrae become misaligned.
Back pain and stiffness are common symptoms of subluxations, but they’re not the only problems a misaligned vertebra can cause. Subluxations can:
- Press on nerves in your back, causing or increasing pain in your back, neck, buttocks, or legs.
- Painfully tighten muscles, ligaments, and tendons.
- Trigger muscle spasms.
- Change the way you walk, creating an imbalance throughout your whole spine.
- Interfere with the normal function of your organs due to pressure on the nerves.
- Cause headaches or fatigue.
Unfortunately, it’s easier to hurt your back when you’re weeding the flower bed or playing a pickup game of softball at a family picnic if you have a subluxation. If your spine isn’t properly aligned, you may be more likely to strain the muscles in your back, sprain the ligaments that hold the bones in a joint together, or injure a spinal disc.
A disc herniation could also spell trouble for your spine. Spinal discs absorb shock and give the spine its flexibility. If these discs begin to bulge, or they rupture and the gel inside the disc oozes out, you may experience pain, weakness, numbness, and tingling in your back, legs, or arms. Discs begin to deteriorate due to wear and tear or injuries. Fortunately, chiropractic adjustments can relieve painful pressure.
How Do You Prepare Your Back for Summer Activities?
Protect your back by following these tips:
- Visit Your Chiropractor. Correcting subluxations and loosening tight muscles and tissues before you become more active is the simplest way to prevent back pain. Chiropractors correct subluxations with spinal manipulation, a treatment that realigns the spine with quick thrusts. In a low back pain study conducted on members of the military, participants who received chiropractic care in addition to usual medical treatment showed more improvement in pain and function than those who only received medication or physical therapy. The study was published in the May 2018 issues of JAMA Network Open. Chiropractors also offer other helpful treatments for back pain, including massage, soft tissue mobilization, electrical nerve stimulation, traction, flexion-distraction, and ultrasound therapy.
- Stretch: Stretching before any activity is a must. A few minutes of stretching increases your flexibility and range of motion, improves circulation to your muscles and tissues and loosens tight muscles. Combine stretching with exercises that strengthen the muscles in your core. When your core is strong, you’re less likely to experience injuries that cause back pain.
- Be Smart: Is it really a good idea to show your kids your most amazing skateboard tricks when you haven’t been on a skateboard in 15 years? Should you lift that heavy branch by yourself instead of waiting for help?
There are many things that are more accessible during the summer like amusement parks, being able to travel, and water sports are just examples. However, these activities can lead to injury which can cause serious problems in the future. Let’s look at a few of these and how you can mitigate the stress on your body and spine.
How Do You Prevent Back Pain on a Roller Coaster?
Roller coasters and amusement parks are some of the most frequent causes of neck and spine injuries. The jerking, sudden movements, and intense increases in speed strain the neck muscles and can even result in further injury of the spinal cord. Some examples of these more serious injuries are herniated discs or whiplash (an injury to the soft tissues, muscles, and ligaments of the neck from a sudden jerk of the head).
Here are some helpful tips for how to safely ride roller coasters and minimize the risk of back and neck pain:
- Follow all warning signs: Don’t ride if you are pregnant, have heart problems, have a pre-existing condition, or have back or neck problems. Riders who are overweight should even be cautious, as the extra pounds will make you feel less comfortable and add more weight to your spine increasing the risk of injury.
- Stretch regularly to try and strengthen your back muscles before and after visiting an amusement park.
- Be sure to stay hydrated.
- Hold onto the grab bars. Grab bars are designed to keep people in the correct position for riding safely. Holding onto the bars will keep you in alignment and make you feel more secure.
- Keep your eyes open! This one is important because the eyes are what inform the body of what is coming next. Keeping your eyes open will allow you to subconsciously prepare for whatever loop or drop comes next on the track.
- Keep your head back when the ride begins. This is often requested on rides that accelerate immediately but should be recommended for most rides. It will greatly decrease the risk of a neck injury or whiplash and will also keep your head from bouncing around.
- Be sure not to lean forward throughout the ride. The forward flexion of the spine, along with the twisting and rotation from sudden turns, increases pressure at the back side of the disc where your spinal canal is located. This could result in back pain, especially if you have a history of disc problems.
In the end, just be cautious when riding. A past injury or a new injury will be less likely to occur if all rules and procedures are followed.
Just remember that your atlas is the most vulnerable area to be impacted by the sudden jerks of a roller coaster—so always remember to plan your adjustment accordingly!
How Can I Protect My Back While Traveling?
Poor posture stresses the spine when sitting for extended periods. Scanning the body regularly to make small but helpful adjustments can minimize strain on the spinal structures.
When checking posture, look for the following:
- Both feet are flat on a stable surface.
- The inward curve of the lower back (the lumbar lordosis) is supported with the seat’s lumbar support or added support.
- The lower back is pressed against the seatback or lumbar support.
- Both ears are aligned over the shoulders without the chin jutting forward, and the shoulders are aligned over the hips, to avoid hunching the back.
- A headrest supports the middle of the head and does not push the head forward.
When driving, adjust the steering wheel and car seat to avoid leaning forward and slouching. When using commercial travel, adjust the seat as much as possible and bring extra support for the lower back, neck, and feet.
On an airplane, train, or bus, the seat may need to be modified to provide the best possible support for the back and neck:
- Bring low back support. Airplane, bus, and car seats cannot accommodate every body type, and many do not include adequate lumbar support. A lumbar pillow—or even a rolled-up jacket or blanket—can be placed behind the lower back to maintain a healthy posture and minimize severe flare-ups of pain.
- Bring a neck pillow. U-shaped neck pillows are commonly available at shops in airports and train stations, as well as department stores. These pillows are designed to allow a passenger to sleep without bending the head too far to one side and straining the neck.
- Use a footrest. Proper back support requires bottom-up leverage from the feet, with both feet flat on the floor and the knees and hips bent at 90°. Place a bag under the feet if they cannot comfortably reach the ground. When driving for long periods, use cruise control to keep feet flat, rather than keeping one leg extended forward to reach the gas pedal.
Not all seat adjustments will work for everyone. The important thing is to make sure that the seat is comfortable for the individual.
What is The Most Common Injury in Wakeboarding and Waterskiing?
Waterskiing and wakeboarding are popular water activities during the summer. Be sure to maintain good form while boarding and skiing to avoid twisting or hunching movements, which can result in back pain. If you are a new water skier or wakeboarder, it is best to have someone with experience who can provide instruction and demonstrate the proper technique. Be sure to ski/board within your limits; going too fast or attempting tricks above your skill level may result in injury. If you happen to fall while out on the water, try to fall backward or sideways, and remember to let go of the tow rope as you fall. And, with any water sport, always wear a life jacket!
How Can I Do Yard Work Without Back Pain?
Calling all green thumbs! Gardening is a restorative activity and a great way to enjoy warm summer days. However, crouching and bending for long periods of time can place stress on your spinal muscles. You will want to stretch regularly, before and during your time in the garden. Make sure to take breaks where you can walk around, improving circulation and allowing your body to rest.
Why Does My Back Hurt After Wearing Flip Flops?
On the surface, lounging at the beach seems like a low-impact activity. But, keep in mind, walking for prolonged periods of time in flip-flops or similar shoes with little support can trigger back pain. Be sure to bring a pair of supportive shoes with you! Laying out for much of the day can also put stress on your spine, increasing the chance of back strain and pain, so be sure to take breaks and adjust your positioning.
Don’t let back and neck pain or an injury ruin your summer. However, we are always here to help put you back together again if you should have an exacerbation or injury… as I tell my kids, be safe and make good choices! 😊
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Pew Research Center: Hospital Emergency Rooms See Boom in Patients Around the Fourth of July, 7/3/2019
JAMA Network Open: Innovating to Improve Care for Low Back Pain in the Military, 5/18/2018
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Spinal Manipulation: What You Need To Know, 9/2022
MedlinePlus: Chiropractic Care for Back Pain, 7/8/2021