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Chronic Back Pain

My Healthy Journey: Chronic Back Pain

The Opioid Epidemic and Chronic Back Pain

Over the last year, the leading news story in health care has been the opioid epidemic. And chronic pain, particularly chronic back pain, has been at the top of the list of reasons why people use opioids long term. 

Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks, and for many, it’s pain that can last the rest of their lives. Chronic pain can happen because of a genetic problem or disorder or an injury or accident. Many people who survive serious car accidents or workplace accidents deal with chronic pain for the rest of their lives. 

And back injuries are a leading cause of chronic pain. Business Insider took a look at a study that dug into the relationship between chronic back pain and opioid use disorder:

Amino - Chronic Back Pain and Opioid Use Disorder

Having back surgery increases your chances of relying on opioids to manage pain by over 7 times! Other back problems raise your chances by over 2 times. 

Obviously, these are also people who are likely to get long-term opioid prescriptions from their doctors.

How Doctors Treat Chronic Pain

For decades, the standard for doctors has been to treat this kind of ongoing pain with opioids. Now, with opioid drug overdoses skyrocketing, doctors are making changes.

Early estimates show that opioids took 53,000 American lives in 2016, more than those killed in car accidents.

Opioids don’t just turn off your pain receptors. They also let your brain release more dopamine, which can help relieve stress and anxiety and make you happier.

But when you take an opioid permanently, you can build a tolerance to it, which means you need more and more to manage your pain and to feel good. Both the pain relief for chronic sufferers and the way it makes you feel can become addictive.

Not to mention, opioids can change how often certain neurons in your brain fire, which means that when you’re not on opioids, you actually get more anxious and unhappy until you take more, causing serious withdrawals. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revised their guidelines to help doctors try other treatments first, and doctors are hard at work to find new ways to treat pain.

Waiting for Chronic Back Pain

So why is this part of my healthy journey? I have my own chronic back pain.

I’m lucky. I’ve never taken opioids for my back pain, so I’ve avoided those issues, but I do understand what it’s like to live with pain as a part of your daily life and why people would be willing to take opioids to stop it.

My father has had a slipped disc in his back my entire life. I’ve always known what back pain looks like. I also always thought it might happen to me. Not only can these issues be hereditary, but I also take after my father physically.

Combine that with the slouch of someone who hated always being the tallest in her class as a child and now sits in front of a computer all day, and I always suspected that back problems were coming for me.

My Chronic Back Pain

The pain started for me in college, when I was no longer playing sports or working out in P.E. every day. One year, I chose to live in the loop in Chicago instead of by my campus, so as part of my daily commute, I walked about an hour and a half. That was when I really started to throw out my back once in a while.

But it wasn’t until I worked at Starbucks after college that I really started to have serious problems regularly. Being on my feet all day and bending up and down with milk jugs all the time really started to take a toll on my back.

I’ll get building back pain on one side of my lower back. It can switch sides, and one side is usually worse than the other. And when it fully goes out, my knee on that side can sometimes buckle, which if I’m not ready for it, can actually knock me down. And sometimes it’s so bad that getting out of bed, getting up and down, or just falling asleep, is a challenge. 

Getting Help

I’ve always known this pain might hit me one day, and when it started, I talked to my dad a lot about what was going on. My symptoms match his exactly.

Since I knew what the issue was from my father’s medical history, I wasn’t really worried about getting an official diagnosis.

I also already knew that I didn’t want to take opioids or painkillers long term. I’m one of those people who rarely takes even Tylenol. And when I had serious opioids after I had my wisdom teeth removed, they made me feel disoriented and nauseous.

My older brother had a serious workplace injury when I was in high school. He broke his pelvis and some of his spine. He’d seen a chiropractor, among many other specialists, when he was recovering, and he still sees one sometimes to cope with his own chronic pain.

I decided to explore that as a treatment option instead. My new chiropractor ran some X-rays and told me that my pelvis is tilted, which lets my disc slip back and forth instead of holding it in place. 

Through a series of adjustments, he worked to bring my pelvis back in line, and brought me some real relief. 

Unfortunately, I’ve done some state-hopping since then, and while I’m still in better shape than I used to be, I haven’t had time to find a new chiropractor yet. 

Starting to Deal with Your Pain

So what can you do to tackle your chronic pain? 

  1. First and foremost, go see your doctor, especially if you’ve been injured or don’t have a family history of back issues. You might need surgery or other serious help.

  2. Consider your treatment options. Surgery can be an option for many chronic back problems, but it has costs. It’s expensive and can cause its own set of pain problems. Opioids are highly addictive. Talk to your doctor about other options, like chiropractic treatment or acupuncture.

  3. Talk to your insurance company. Insurance companies want to stop the opioid epidemic too, and more plans are covering alternative therapies like chiropractic visits than ever before.

  4. Talk to your employer. If you have insurance through your employer, talk to them about making sure other therapies are covered on your group plan.

  5. Work with your care team on a treatment plan to cope with and manage your pain.

Learning to Manage Pain

So how do I manage my chronic back pain without drugs?

  • Set expectations. Knowing I would probably grow up to develop chronic back pain means I’ve always been ready for it. Accepting that pain will be a part of my life helps me feel in control.

  • Find a treatment that helps. For me, this has been regular chiropractic adjustments that help relieve tension and keep my disc in place. 

  • Get massages. I get the occasional massage to help relieve tension in the muscles in my back too. Many people with back pain get regular massages and swear by them.

  • Exercise and eat right. Even just a few extra pounds can put enormous stress on your spine if you already have back problems. And exercise can strengthen the muscles in your back. Focus on low-impact activities and strengthen your core if you’re already in pain.

    And choose your cardio wisely. Running outdoors or on inclines can be really hard on your back and pelvis. Try running on a treadmill, walking, or biking instead.

  • Try yoga, pilates, or tai chi. Yes, these are technically forms of exercise, but they’re more than that too. A new study found that yoga can actually help relieve back pain itself, but recommends gentle poses. And the routine they used is free online. I find it highly relaxing and a nice way to stretch and wind down, and you can do it as often as you want.

  • Get plenty of sleep. You’d be surprised how sleep affects other parts of your life. When I’m sleep deprived, my back is much more likely to go out. And since I struggle to sleep once my back’s out, it makes for a long sleepless week in that situation.

  • Try little treatments and tricks. I ice my back and use heating pads. I also take over-the-counter pain meds before bed if my back feels like it will go out during the night. If my back’s already out, lying on the floor (if I have someone handy to help me get up later) can help. Putting a pillow between my knees can also help while I’m trying to fall asleep.

  • Meditate. Meditation can help you clear your mind and refocus, and mindfulness can be surprisingly helpful in overcoming pain. There are easy apps you can try to get started too.

  • Talk to someone or journal. Chronic pain can be emotional. You hurt. You can’t escape it, and it can feel hopeless. Talk to a close loved one, journal about what’s happening, or visit a therapist. It can help you blow off steam, lighten your mental load, feel heard, and document your pain’s progression.

  • Practice self-care. Stress and tension can tighten up everything in your back. Find ways to reduce and fight stress in your life. And find little pleasures that you can focus on each day, like your favorite coffee, trading back rubs with your significant other, or cuddling your pet.

Most importantly, get help when you need it. Never let your pain push you so far that you can’t handle it or you fall into depression. Talk to your doctor to keep your mind and body healthy, even in the face of chronic pain.

Fun Summer Activities, Like Make Believe

Fun Summer Activities

Summer means as parents, you might be trying to fill your kids’ days with something more substantial than TV. Give these fun summer activities a try.

Get the whole family moving and take your dog to a park. Just check the pavement first. If it’s too hot to keep your hand on for 7 seconds, it’s too hot for your pup.

Struggle GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

 

Do you need a moment to breathe? Try these kid-friendly yoga moves and do it together.

Yoga for All Ages

 

Hit the road for a classic summer road trip, just make sure your kids’ car seats are in safely. Road trips are a great time to introduce your kids to new music or audiobooks and see new places.

Summer Road Trip

 

Make learning or getting active fun for your kids. Do they hate reading? Give graphic novels or comics a try. Do they love video games? Try these active Wii games.

Get Active with Video Games

 

Museums, aquariums, and zoos are a great way to make learning fun, and hands-on children’s museums are more available than ever. Find one now.

Learning Made Fun

 

Never underestimate the power of make-believe and dress-up, which let your kids explore complex subjects and build creativity.

Make nighttime summer memories that will last a lifetime with stargazing. Keep an eye out for special events like meteor showers or learn some constellations (there are some handy apps for that), grab some blankets and hot cocoa, and head to the country.

Stargazing Adventure

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Beat Stress Tips

Tips to Beat Stress

It was Everybody Deserves a Massage Week, so we helped you take a minute for yourself each day with these tips to beat stress.

If you’ve never had a massage, they’re a great way to relax, relieve muscle tension, and help your immune and digestive systems.

Massage Away Stress

 

Grab some gum. It’s been shown to relieve anxiety and stress and improve alertness while multitasking.

Fighting Strss with Gum

 

Watch a viral video, comedy special, or your favorite rom-com. Laughter can lower stress hormones, reduce inflammation in the arteries, and increase good cholesterol.

Laughter for Your Stress

 

Unplug from your technology, turn off your phone, and shut off the news. Taking a break can genuinely help you beat stress.

Eat a square of chocolate, suck on a peppermint, or sip on hot chocolate. Sweets can stem the production of the stress hormone.

A Dose of Sweetness

 

Try a stress-relieving yoga routine. It’s great exercise, and you’ll feel refreshed and calm afterward.

Stress-Fighting Yoga

 

Learn to knit, cross-stitch, or sew. Repetitive motions have been shown to help sooth anxiety.

Knit Your Way to Peace

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National Anti-Boredom Month Activities

National Anti-Boredom Month Activities

It’s National Anti-Boredom Month, and it’s important to beat boredom in more ways than just bingeing Netflix, no matter your age. Give these National Anti-Boredom Month activities a try.

Try a new and adventurous activity, like kickboxing, indoor rock climbing, or yoga, or just find a great hiking spot.

Reaching New Heights

 

Got bored kids this summer? Try a campout in the backyard or build an awesome indoor fort with them for a change of pace.

Campout at Home

 

Create a dream and goal board, which can help you identify things to work toward in your personal or professional life.

Dream Smart

 

Explore your community. Find a place to volunteer, visit a local farmers market, and check out a local calendar for festivals and events.

Learn something new to beat boredom. Pick up a new skill for your career, teach yourself to knit or paint, or start a garden.

Growing a New Skill

 

Get creative! Find crafts and activities for you or the whole family, like scrapbooking, sewing, or woodworking.

Creative Creation

 

If TV or movies are your favorite hobbies, do an exercise each commercial break or make a game out of it. Try doing something like 10 crunches each time a character says their catchphrase.

Active in Front of the TV

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Play for National Parks and Rec Month

National Parks and Rec Month

July is National Parks and Rec Month, and you should take advantage of your community’s parks and activities to get active!

Visit your local pool to cool off and get moving with classes like water aerobics and swim lessons, or at some, you can even join night swims or walk against a lazy river.

Water Workout

 

Stay fit as you get older with walks, exercise classes, and activities from your local park district.

Active as You Age

 

Camps and day camps from your park district can be the perfect summer activity for your kids.

Camp Fun

 

However you want to move, from kickboxing and  yoga to line dancing, your park district has the class for you.

Work Out Your Way

 

Be prepared to save a life with CPR classes from your local park district or hospital.

Save Lives with CPR

 

Find fun, safe events and classes for your teens on things like babysitting.

Safe Teens

 

If you or your kids love to compete, join a team to get active.

Compete Your Way to Fitness

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Fighting for Fitness with Exercise

My Healthy Journey: Time to Sweat

I’ve changed my diet, organized my life, and made healthier choices, so the last and biggest thing on the list is exercise.

I don’t like to exercise, as I think a lot of us don’t. I’m competitive, so I liked playing sports as a kid, but as an adult, exercising by myself is boring and hard work. If I had a gym membership and could read on a treadmill, it might be different. But as it is, it’s hard to make myself do it.

But if I can (for the most part) give up candy, completely abandon soda, and stop drinking coffee for a month, I can handle anything!

I started by doing a muscle-strengthening yoga routine every day, which was a great way to start for me. It wasn’t too intense, it was calming, and it really helped me regain some flexibility and balance I’d lost over the years.

Now, I’ve been doing P90X. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it used to have infomercials on TV, which automatically makes me suspicious. But I actually know a number of people who have done it, and my goal is less to get a killer six-pack and more to get in better shape, so I don’t really need it to live up to all its TV promises.

I borrowed the DVDs from a friend, so I didn’t spend all of the money they’re talking about. I’m also not following all of their meal plans or the exact exercise plan. Each day you’re supposed to do a different workout for a different part of your body, and they’re each about an hour and a half long with warmups and cool downs.

I usually can’t make it through the whole thing yet; they’re really difficult! I also do them more like every other day because I’m so sore the day after. They make you pour sweat, and they make you want to lie on the ground in your own sweat puddle to catch your breath.

But I can already see some improvements! And that’s really satisfying. Am I out running yet? No (it’s been so rainy!). But I am getting cardio and strengthening done, in my own bedroom no less.

Plus, I’ve found some new interests by doing them. For instance, there’s a kickboxing workout that I love, so maybe in the future, I might try kickboxing classes!

Do I think I’ll stick with this level of workout forever? Definitely no! Eventually, I’d like to mix things like this up with other activities, like yoga, runs, and more simple workouts. Once it’s a habit, it will really be more about doing something every day.

It’s all about finding the things that will keep you interested, engaged, and MOVING.

There are so many reasons (and studies on) why you should  exercise. Mayo Clinic breaks it down perfectly: Exercise controls weight, fights health conditions and diseases, improves your mood, boosts your energy, and helps you sleep.

And Rally, our wellness tool, knows how important it is, too. It has tons of great missions to get you moving, like exercise 30 minutes every day, work up a sweat 3x a week, swim 30 minutes, and work your core, as well as weightlifting and walking missions.

So to help you get on a great fitness track that will entertain you and doesn’t require an expensive package, I’ve rounded up some activities for you to try for some of these missions.

Exercise 30 Minutes Every Day

43 Workouts That Allow You to Watch An Ungodly Amount of Television
100 No-Equipment Workouts

Work Up a Sweat 3x a Week

PopSugar Workout Music
Top 100 Running Songs

Run 30 Minutes

7 Easy Ways to Become a Runner
Beginner’s Running Guide
3 Methods to Run Faster

Swim 30 Minutes

The Ultimate Pool Workout
6 Tips to Improve Your Swimming Right Now
Make A Splash Infographic

Swimming's Benefits Infographic
Image via MyMedicalForum

Work Your Core

10-Minute Core-Blasting Pilates Workout

Quick Workout for a Powerful Core
Image via Buzzfeed’s 9 Quick Total Body Workouts

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Perfect Flexible Poise

My Healthy Journey: Flexible Living

As I told you last week, I’ve been making some radical changes, trying to be more flexible in many areas of my life.

I’ve eliminated soda, coffee, alcohol, and pretty much all processed foods. (I don’t think the coffee is going to be a permanent change after this month. I’m warning you now.)

I’ve also changed my diet in pretty big ways.

But that’s not all! I’m not participating in any challenges from work, but I’m still working out every day. That’s right everyone! I haven’t been this active for 10 years! So the truth is, even if it’s been a decade, there are ways to start getting active.

That’s not to say I started running 5 miles every morning. I’ve actually started doing yoga in the comfort of my own home. The gradual build is important to me.

I know I’m not the only one in the world who doesn’t want to put her struggle on display, but there are ways to start without witnesses.

Choosing Flexible Workouts

Rally, our wellness tool, has missions that can help you ease into fitness for when you’re not ready for a gym full of people quite yet. And increasing your flexibility and endurance is a great way to do that.

Whether it’s meditating for 20 minutes every day, stretching every day, dancing anytime, or going to yoga class every week, there is a mission to help you build to your goals. I’ve been wanting to do yoga for years, so this build has been a no-brainer for me.

Now, I have to admit, I’m not ready to go to yoga class once a week. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a yoga class (even just in movies), but the teacher tends to walk around and correct everyone’s form.

And while I would love to have perfect form eventually, there was just NO WAY I could’ve done some of the things I’m already doing on that first day. Let alone hold them for 5 breaths.

So what I’ve done is pick out a simple 10-minute routine (although it takes me more than 20 to work both sides) designed for something that’s a priority for me, building muscle tone.

And I know there are some poses in it that I simply couldn’t do on the first day, like this craziness:

Garland Pose

Or this killer:

Four-Limbed Staff Pose
Images from Shape

But 2 weeks later, I’m doing them. (Although I’m sure my version of that top one still isn’t quite perfect yet.) And each day, they get a little bit easier, and I hold them for a little bit longer. And as soon as I lose the burn from this routine, I can upgrade to something new and different.

I’m still working on mixing more things into my daily routine (mostly ab workouts at this point and hope to move on to cardio soon), but I can already feel the difference in my arms, legs, and most noticeably, my flexibility.

Here are some resources to help you follow my lead and start your own build to yoga class.

Stretch to Become Flexible Every Day

Office Stretches
Image via WalkingSpree

  • The 10-Minute De-stress and Stretch Workout:

The 10-Minute De-Stress and Stretch Workout
Image via Women’s Health Magazine

Dance Anytime

Yoga

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