Pregnancy Related Back Pain: Real Solutions

This is the most amazing thing to happen to you!  Congratulations!  Few things will change your life more than having a child.  It’s a joyful time for you, filled with anxious excitement and planning.   While you relish this 9 months and the anticipation of your baby, there was one thing you weren’t planing on: pregnancy back pain!  Ugh!

Pregnancy related back pain is an extremely common complication of pregnancy. Some estimates place as many as 61% of women as experiencing low back pain while carrying their child.  That being said, there are many practical conservative solutions to the stress on the low back that occurs while pregnant.

So, why does a woman develop low back pain? Well there is the obvious answer that with added weight, comes added pressure on the joints. True, the average woman, in a healthy pregnancy, gains 25-35 pounds on average. However, there is more the back pain it than a simply weight gain.

Many women describe pregnancy related low back pain as back pressure, pain across the back, or pain in the hips. Additionally, they may report achiness, stabbing, burning, or instability in the low back.   Regardless of the description, the causes of pregnancy related low back pain are many and include:

  1. Increased weight gain – as your body increases in weight, increased stress is applied to the joints. Gaining the typical 25-35 pounds in a period of 9 months is a relative rapid weight gain, and change your body may have difficulty adapting to. Generally, the impact of weight gain will be affected by general health going into the pregnancy and other factors such as core strength and exercise levels. While healthy weight gain should not generally be discouraged, there are ways to get the body to adapt better to the increased weight, minimizing stress to the joints and maintaining full function of the back through the duration of your pregnancy.
  2. Changes in weight bearing – Generally, most of the weight gain during pregnancy is in the stomach causing the center of gravity to shift forward. While non-pregnant individuals will generally have a center of gravity that is somewhere over the mid-pelvis, pregnancy causes trunk weight to shift forward. This forward weight bearing can cause an increase in the curvature of the low back leading to cramping as the back muscles struggle to support the weight of the abdomen. Additionally, forward weight bearing stress the sacroiliac joints, those tailbone joints that work with the pelvis, to cause sacroiliitis.
  3. Changes in hormones – As your body approaches its due date, your body will start to produce hormones which will increase flexibility. While the hormones do allow for increased motion in the pelvis to allow for birthing, they also make it more difficult for the pelvis and low back to stay in proper alignment, leading to increased instability and pain. Pain may come and go as the pelvis and low back shift and move more easily, resulting in low back irritation and pain.

So, you have low back pain from your pregnancy, what can you do? There are a lot of conservative interventions available to help your deal with your back pain. Some can be accomplished on your own, others require the help and intervention of others. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Weight bearing exercise – A moderate amount of walking will help keep postural muscles strong and improve circulation to affected tissues. Additionally, walking will help improve motion in the pelvis which should, in turn, decrease the likelihood of joint instability, asymmetry, and misalignment of the pelvis.
  2. Stretching – Later in pregnancy, your body does produce hormones that increase joint flexibility and make birthing possible. However the degree to which flexibility improves often depends on pre-pregnancy range of motion. It’s been my experience that many women have developed such muscle tightness before pregnancy that the relaxing hormones can’t even get those individuals to normal ranges of motion. Your body is designed to have a certain level of flexibility that we lose due to life circumstances. Maintaining and improving that flexibility will help decrease the stress on your low back and pelvis. Often, stretching areas you would not associate with your back can even help, such as hamstrings, upper back, and hips. Sitting on an exercise ball and rolling the hips or laying on your back and using the ball to roll the hips back and forth are great exercises for improving your back pain. There are also yoga programs for pregnancy that are available. True, you may not be able to do every pose, but working on your range of motion is generally a good idea.
  3. Improved diet – Of, course, it should go without saying that you should be eating well during your pregnancy, and I’m not talking about volume but quality. After all, you are eating for two now. You should be eating whole foods free of artificial ingredients. Not only will you be healthier for it but your baby will thank you. Improved nutrition will increase nutrient supply for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the back. Good food will decrease the likelihood of muscle spasms due to nutritional deficiency.   Avoid excessive carbs/sugars because they can be pro-inflammatory and contribute to inflammation in the joints. Also, watch your water intake. Dehydration can also lead to muscle spasming and soreness in the soft tissues. Finally, a whole food pre-natal vitamin should be part of any regimen to help fill the holes in your diet, not to mention prevent possible birth defects.
  4. Stress management – Mental stress causes physical distress. True, your low back pain is most likely due to the physiologic changes you’re experiencing with your pregnancy but mental stress can take a physical problem and make it that much worse. Pregnancy in and of itself can be a trying time mentally, especially for single or first time mothers. Finding an outlet or your stress, such as exercise or even counseling will help your body adapt better.
  5. Improve your body positioning – Being conscious of your posture and taking active steps to alleviate the stresses on your back may improve your pain symptoms. This may include everything from sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs to using pillows to support the back and legs while you’re sitting. Back supports may also help.   Avoid standing or sitting in one position for too long and try to get moving as much as possible.
  6. Massage Therapy – Because much of the pain experienced during pregnancy is due to tension and stress on the muscles, soft tissue mobilization may help alleviate a portion of the pain. Massage therapy will help relax tightened muscles, improve circulation to the tissues, and promote a general sense of well-being.
  7. Heat or ice – While many sources will include hot baths for relieving pain, I will generally discourage that for my patients. In fact, many physiotherapy resources discourage the application of heat over the abdomen as a contraindication during pregnancy. I generally tell patients to use a regional warm pack over the back for no more than 15-20 minutes. It can be repeated but allow about an hour or so for re-application. I want the patient to avoid increasing their resting metabolize temperature and the goal isn’t to cook the tissues. A warm pack can often provide just as much effect as a hot pack, with less risk. A microwaveable heat pack or hot water bottle will generally suffice to ease tension in the low back without the danger of overheating the area. As a general rule, avoid placing heat or ice over the abdomen while you’re pregnant.
  8. Kinesiotaping – This is an athletic taping technique that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Kinesiotape is being increasingly used by professional and amateur athletes to help alleviate pain and improve tissue healing. It’s safe to use during pregnancy because it does not use any drugs and is strictly a cloth tape with a skin adhesive.  In fact, there are specific taping regimens for pregnancy, to not only alleviate low back pain, but possible abdominal pain associated with carrying your baby. To be effective, though, the tape should be applied by an individual with training and experience in kinesiotaping. There is a certain art form to its application. It can, however, offer notable decrease in pain and improved stability in the back, hips, and abdomen.
  9. Proper spinal alignment – Arguably one of the most important aspects of decreasing pain in your back, I saved this for last. Proper alignment of the low back will decrease pressure on pain sensitive nerves, improve motion of the joints of the low back, decrease stress on the soft tissues, and improve overall function of the low back. Chiropractic care has been routinely shown to be safe and effective for relieving the back pain associated with pregnancy. Spinal adjusting has also been linked to improved labor and delivery. There are certain medical conditions that may be a contraindication to chiropractic care but, for most women, chiropractic care can be very effectively incorporated into a pain management regimen. In my office, I will frequently see pregnant patients on a weekly or biweekly basis for their pain and most women will see decreased pain immediately following their adjustment. They also will report improved ability to sleep, decrease generalized soreness, and an improved ability to function. In my opinion, chiropractic adjusting should be incorporated for most women with pregnancy related low back pain.

If you are struggling with pregnancy related low back pain, there are solutions out there for you. Perhaps the best place to consult about your back pain is with someone who sees a lot of back pain patients, like a chiropractor. Besides adjusting your spine, they can provide you with additional tips and tricks to alleviate your pain.

Has your doctor suggested pain medication to you? Always ask better questions. The decision to take pain medication while pregnant should be a thoughtful one made with your medical doctor.  You need to know what research has been done on that medication and its effect on a developing fetus. Certain conditions like asthma and autism have risen to alarming rates, with little research done on the effects of oral medications on an undeveloped fetus. While there is little overt evidence to explain the remarkable rise in childhood illness, that is mostly the result of a lack of research. Just because there is not an established 1 to 1 relationship between a specific cause and disease does not discount an overall trend toward increasing illness due to an accumulation of exposures. I don’t think it’s an accident that autism rates have risen to 1 in 88 kids. Too much of the research focuses on, and debunks, a single specific cause like vaccination and I fear conditions like autism are not due to a solitary cause but a series of toxic exposures over time. Unfortunately, there is very little research on the effects of pre-pregnancy, intra-pregnancy, and post-pregnancy toxic exposure on the developing child. However, it reasons that the rises in childhood illness rates may be linked to the fact that our environment is as toxic as it’s ever been. Anything you put in your body that is not food is a potential toxin. That toxin can affect you and your baby. Pain medication is not food. Anything you feed your body while pregnant, your baby will respond to, either for good or bad. Try to remove as many toxins as possible from your diet and lifestyle. Turning to natural means for alleviation of your pain may make you and your baby a whole lot healthier and happier for a lifetime of wellness.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symptoms_and_discomforts_of_pregnancy

www.webmd.com/baby/guide/back-pain-in-pregnancy

http://icpa4kids.org/Chiropractic-Research/Pregnancy-and-Adjustments/

Cancer On The Rise?

According to a recent report by the World Health Organization, based on research by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, cancer will soon hit a new benchmark.  In 2012, cases of new cancer were estimated worldwide at 14 million but are slated to rise to 22 million within the next 2 decades.  Why the rise?  The World Health Organization blames smoking and obesity, but is that all there is to it?

The most common cancers were lung cancer, breast cancer, and colon cancer.  The cancer that caused the most deaths was of the lung, nearly 20% of cancer deaths.  The liver and stomach were each nearly 10% of cancer deaths.  They further go on to point that “the burden of cancer internationally has doubled over the last 20 years, and it will double over the next 20 years.”  With more and more research on cancer every day, how can this be?  Are we really winning the war against cancer?  The only conclusion that can be drawn from this report is a resounding ‘no.’

So who’s to blame?  With absolutely huge amounts of money being spent on research and treatment, what are we getting for our money?  A cancer rate set to double?  The report is quick to blame western civilization and our “bad habits” that are being exported exponentially.  I can’t really argue against that point because I see patients every day in my office living tragic lifestyles.  Of course everyone knows that smoking causes cancer.  In fact, it’s a wonder that anyone still smokes despite all the evidence pointing toward not only cancers, but strokes and heart disease.  But, what of the other potential exposures?  Are people even aware of how their habits, lifestyles, and choices may be killing them?

According to some sources, there are over 80,000 potential toxins in our environment, many of them are known carcinogens.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration even allows over 14,000 non-food chemicals in our food supply, many of which Americans consume as “healthy” alternatives to actual food.

For example, artificial sweetener is a common non-food chemical additive.  Some sweeteners like saccharine have been linked to increased cancer rates, yet people continue to lace their food with it as a healthier alternative to sugar.  It seems like it’s almost impossible to find foods nowadays that are not laced with chemicals, from antibiotics in our meats, to medications in our drinking water.  Our food is laced with preservatives, colors, flavor enhancers, dyes, and limitless other additives.  Combine this with lack of exercise, poor sleep habits, high stress, and generally poor nervous system health and you have a recipe for disaster.

Think your medications are healthy?  Well, that depends on your perspective.  They’re definitely healthier than dying.  A better solution would be to work to achieve true health, rather than just covering up the symptoms of your disease with more chemicals.  That is a task you need to work through with your doctor.  You can’t get health from a bottle, only symptom control.  A true healthcare provider will work with you and for you to move you away from disease and back toward health, not just placate your symptoms.

So, what’s the solution to this cancer crisis?  Worldwide, we’ve spent almost too much money to count, so why can’t we get a handle on this life-threatening disease?  The answer could be that we’re not addressing the right problems.  Rather than spending nearly all of that money on research for cancer treatments, would we be better served to allocate larger portions to cancer prevention?  We should be investing in identifying potential exposures and then working to eliminate the potential for risk.

So, are you going to wait for this to magically happen?  You shouldn’t.  You have more control than you know.  If you really want to prevent cancer and preserve your health, here are some practical steps you can take to lower your risk:

1.        Eat better – Anything you put in your body that’s not food is a poison.  You remember what food is, right?  It’s those pesky fruits, vegetables, and healthy meats.  No, soda isn’t food.  Alcohol is a poison.  Artificial sweetener is toxic.  Even your medications come with some risk.  Instead of buying pre-made or packaged convenience food, you’ll have to start cooking again.  This means fresh and organic as much as possible.  If it’s not food don’t eat it.

2.       Limit your exposure – We are constantly under assault from our external environment.  Everything from our cleaning products to air freshener and non-stick cookware has potential toxins in it.  Did you know that plastic is a potential toxin and when microwaved may leach some of those toxins into your food?  If it’s made in a lab, it most likely has the potential to be a toxin, bad news for you.  One of the best things you can do to decrease your cancer risk is consider all of your decisions and do your research before you make them.

3.       Avoid destructive habits – This would include regularly exposing yourself to known recreational toxins such as cigarette smoke and alcohol.

4.       Boost your exercise – Sure people who exercise can get cancer.  Lots of professional athletes have even struggled with this disease.  That being said, however, cancer rates statistically plummet in people who regularly exercise.  Think 30 minutes 3 times a week is enough?  I would argue it’s not for a human organism genetically designed to get 12-16 hours of movement per day.  You may not be able to prevent it altogether, but at least to can decrease your risk.

5.       Limit your weight – Simply put, less tissue means fewer cells.  Fewer cells mean a decreased risk that some of them will become cancerous.  Additionally, fat cells have an affinity for toxins.  So, the heavier you are, the more likely you are to be storing accumulated, potentially cancer causing, toxins.

6.       Maintain a healthy nervous system – Your nervous system is the circuitry for the body.  It controls everything from motion to immune system.  It’s impossible to keep maximum health with a corrupted nervous system.  Exercise is a way to keep the nervous system functioning at a high level.  Spinal adjusting by a trained chiropractor, too, can also decrease nervous system interference.  I won’t say that chiropractic is a definite cancer preventative, but it probably wouldn’t hurt.  Physiologically, a healthy nervous system is critical to a healthy immune system, which should, theoretically, keep cancer at bay.  Sadly, less than 2% of Americans get adjusted regularly.

If you want to beat cancer, you need to take control of your health.  Don’t ever live under the illusion that you can never get cancer but also never believe that cancer is inevitable or inescapable.  If you can take control of your health, make better decisions, and think of health as a journey and investment, perhaps you can reap the rewards of better health and a longer cancer-free life.  Be well.

 

Source:  USA Today, Cancer to Skyrocket Worldwide, WHO report faults smoking, obesity, and increased population; by Nancy Hellmich, February 5th, 2014

You Are What You Eat

Anything you put in your body that’s not food is a poison…period.  While this fact is lost on the masses who shovel chemically laced food and medications into their mouths without a second thought, the truth is the truth.  From a genetic and developmental standpoint, your digestive system is designed to process food.

So, what is food?  You probably remember.  No, it’s not a microwavable burrito, curly fries, or a bag of potato chips.  Food is a carrot.  Food is a piece of grilled chicken.  Food is an apple.  Food is a salad.  Essentially, if it comes from a plant, but doesn’t grow on a plant, a lot of what’s in it is not food.

Nowadays, we live in a society of convenience.  Quick and easy meals are everywhere.  Why cook dinner when you can just pick it up on the way home?  Even illnesses have become more convenient as there seems to be a treatment for just about every sort of symptom.  Our lifestyles abound with chemical exposures, the most direct of which is what we ingest.

The United States Food and Drug Administration allows thousands of non-food chemicals into the food supply.  This includes everything from artificial sweeteners and flavor enhancers to preservatives and colorings.  Much of the meat we consume is tainted by hormones and antibiotics and even some of the chemical additives we regularly ingest are sold to us as “healthy.”

Let’s take the example of margarine.  For years, margarine was sold as a “healthier” alternative to butter.  Lo and behold, after years of consumption, it turns out that the exact opposite is true.  It really shouldn’t have been any surprise.  Look at the back of a package of margarine versus a package of butter.  Margarine is a chemical soup of up to 20 different ingredients, most of which are unpronounceable, and in my opinion not fit for consumption.  Butter’s ingredients are simple: milk, cream, and salt…all food.

Artificial sweetener is another example of a chemical alternative that’s been sold to the masses as “healthier” for them.  Never mind that there is some research that suggests that saccharine is a potential carcinogen, and aspartame and sucralose are both potential neurotoxins.  Your body is designed to process sugar not the reasonable approximation of sugar.  The problem is not the sugar itself, it’s the copious volumes we as Americans consume per year.

Even the vitamin supplements you take may not be all they are cracked up to be.  Many of the larger vitamin suppliers provide their vitamins as a “chemical isolates.”  Meaning, the vitamin has been mass produced in a laboratory from simpler chemicals to manufacture a reasonable approximation of a natural vitamin.  The problem is that many of these chemical vitamins are missing key enzymes and cofactors that make the vitamin usable by your body.  So, some of the supplements you take may actually be worthless.  For instance, many supplement manufacturers list vitamin E as ‘alpha-tocopherol’ but this is only one component of a larger vitamin E complex.  To get the complete vitamin, you need beta, gamma, and delta tocopherol along with selenium, xanthine, and lipositols.  I know that sounds like a chemistry lesson, but what you don’t know about your supplements may be costing you money and even affecting your health.   Go with a whole food supplement manufactured from food.  After all, that’s what you’re built to digest.

Last, but certainly not least in the chemicals we regularly ingest, are the medications we take. Your body is not a chemistry set.  It’s a finely tuned biochemical producing machine.  Medications are not vital to life and are not essential nutrients.  Granted, for a person suffering from acute and chronic illness, their effects can be miraculous, but no one ever died of an aspirin deficiency.  Still, patients routinely list aspirin in their vitamins on our new patient intake forms.  That’s the effect of marketing and deficient patient education.  Medications are designed to produce a desirable effect within the chemistry of the body.  Often, this comes with a barrage of less than desirable effects (side effects).  The medications you ingest will chemically affect the tissues of the body in specific ways and your body will respond to those effects based on your individual health.  Your liver then has to process and package those chemicals for excretion out of the body.  Well, what happens when your medication consumption becomes greater than your body’s ability to excrete them?  You become toxic.

Now, you may be so ill as to need the medications you take just to stay alive.  As a chiropractor, I’ll be the first to say that I would never tell a patient to take or not take their medications.  That’s between the patient and their medical doctor.  I have no objection to required medications as a life preserving and improving methodology.  You just need to be aware of the positive and negative effects of regularly ingesting significant amounts of artificial chemicals.  It does not come without a price.  What I will encourage, however, is the patient to become better informed about the treatments they receive, both positive and negative, and ask their doctor better questions.  Your physician works for you, after all.

You see, illness is not an accident.  Illness is the result of neglect and exposure.  Not eating correctly, feeding ourselves convenience foods laced with chemicals, and even intentionally ingesting non-natural chemicals are all factors that can make us sick.  The most overlooked aspect of this scenario is that you ultimately have near full control over your chemical exposures.  If you want to be healthy, make better decisions, ask better questions, and make health a priority.   When you decide to take charge of your own health and be conscious of the good and bad decisions you make on a daily basis, that’s when you have true power over your health.