By Rita Hancock MD (Board-certified Pain Management Specialist)
I know how easy it is to get carried away while writing—especially on a good day when the words just flow out of you. You don’t even notice the time passing. Four or five hours at your computer feels like only five minutes. But let me warn you about the health consequences of your sedentary vocation, my friend. Sitting for long periods can take its toll on your physical body.
One way in which the writer’s lifestyle can affect you is through prolonged pressure on the discs in your back. Because of the forces imposed on your spine in the sitting position, a lot of pressure is placed on the front part of your discs. As a result, your discs are inclined to pooch backward, leaving you with a disc “bulge” (a small problem), “protrusion” (a medium problem), or an “extrusion” (aka “herniation”—a big problem).
The problem with your discs sticking out backwards is they tend to pooch into the areas through which the spinal nerves run. Especially when you’re older, you tend to have arthritis, bone spurs, and buckling spinal ligaments in your back, anyway. Thus, when you combine those things (which also pooch into the spinal canal) with your disc pooches from being sedentary, you can get some significantly pinched nerves in your back.
The way to tell if you have disc problems vs. other spinal issues is by trying to determine in which position you feel worse. Does your pain increase in the sitting position? Does it get worse when you cough or sneeze or when you strain during a bowel movement? If so, you may have a disc problem. If all you had was arthritis in your back (and no disc problems), it should get better not worse when you sit.
If your doctor determines that you have a disc problem, and if you’re a writer, you definitely need to change your workstation. Talk with your doctor or physical therapist about finding a chair that minimizes spinal flexion. And don’t slump as you type! Try to keep your back straight, as though a broomstick is stuck up against it!
Another good use of your time is to engage in “A McKenzie Program.” It’s a series of spinal extension exercises generally prescribed by your physical therapist and done every two hours to take pressure off your discs. The nice thing about McKenzie exercises is they remove the pressure from the front part of your discs and place it on the back part of the disc. Doing this helps decrease your pain, especially after prolonged sitting.
Disc issues can be very serious and lead to significant pain problems and sometimes-irreversible muscle weakness. That’s why it’s important for you to stay ahead of the game. See your doctor if you have back pain and take care of your back now so you don’t develop a disc problem later. Every chance you get, snap out of your writer’s trance, stand up, and walk around for a while in the real world, where you can’t just hit “backspace” to erase your herniated discs.
For more information about improving your health and about how you can combine your healthy endeavors with your faith walk, visit Dr. Rita Hancock’s diet book, The Eden Diet. Her website www.TheEdenDiet.com Also, look for her new book, RadicalWell-being—A Biblical Guide to Overcoming Pain, Illness, and Addictions (Siloam, January 8, 2013).Please like my new page on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RadicalWellBeing