Dr. Jeffrey I. Kennis,  D.C.
205 Commercial St.
Boston, MA 02109
NORTH END

( 617)720-2329


 

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Sleep quality is one of the foundations of your health, and getting good sleep can be especially beneficial when dealing with back or neck pain. To help you distinguish facts from popular myths, here are 6 fast facts about sleep.

There are several techniques and sleep aids that can help you get a better night's sleep. Read Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

  1. Caffeine takes longer to wear off than you think. It takes your body several hours to process through the stimulating effects of caffeine. As much as 50% of the caffeine you drink can still be active in your system 5 to 7 hours later.1 Switching to decaf in the afternoon may make it easier to fall asleep.
  2. Short naps are effective in moderation. Occasionally taking a daytime nap that lasts 30 minutes or less can refresh you with a boost of wakefulness.2 Indulging in longer naps, daily naps, and evening naps, however, can lead to tossing and turning.
  3. See Should I Nap During the Day?

  1. A new, medium-to-firm bed may improve your sleep. Replacing an existing mattress with a new, medium-firm mattress can positively affect sleep quality and ease nonspecific low back pain for many people.3 However, its effectiveness for you in particular depends on many factors, such as your body weight and personal preference.
  2. See Mattress Guidelines for Sleep Comfort

  3. Exercise right before bedtime can make it harder to fall asleep. While exercising in the afternoon and evening is perfectly fine, working up a sweat at the end of the day can delay sleep. Budget at least a couple of hours between the time you finish your workout and the time you go to bed.
  4. Melatonin can help with falling sleep, but it’s not a cure-all. Taking the over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin can help with overcoming jet-lag and modestly improving sleep quality, but it is less effective for trying to treat chronic insomnia.4
  5. See Non-Surgical Treatment for a Lumbar Herniated Disc

  6. Less sleep can make you sick. A lack of sleep has been shown to produce chronic low-grade inflammation and increase susceptibility of catching a common cold.5,6 Reduce your chances of getting ill by prioritizing sleep.
  7. See What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Sleep

If you put these facts to good use by making a few changes to your sleep hygiene, you may start benefiting from restful and restorative nights of sleep.

Learn more:

7 Tips for Getting Better Sleep in the New Year

Restorative Sleep Brings Back Pain Relief

References:

  1. Walker MP. Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams. London, UK: Penguin Books; 2018.
  2. Dhand R, Sohal H. Good sleep, bad sleep! The role of daytime naps in healthy adults. Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2006;12(6):379-82.
  3. Jacobson BH, Boolani A, Smith DB. Changes in back pain, sleep quality, and perceived stress after introduction of new bedding systems. J Chiropr Med. 2009;8(1):1-8.

Complete Listing of References

Most studies have shown that men are more likely than women to put off visiting the doctor. There are several possible reasons for this discrepancy, but the bottom line is that men may need an extra prod to get various aches and pains checked by a medical professional. Below are some key signs that it's time to get neck or back pain checked by a doctor.

Illustration of a patient and doctor reviewing MRI images

Back pain that is accompanied by neurological problems, such as weakness, numbness or tingling in the legs or arms should be assessed by a physician. Read When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

1. The pain has lasted more than a couple weeks despite self-care

For most cases of neck or back pain, the first step is to go easy and rest it for a few days by avoiding movements that worsen the pain. Several other self-care methods are available, such as over-the-counter pain medications, or applying ice or heat packs. However, if your neck or back pain persists or keeps coming back over a period of at least 2 weeks, it’s probably time to see a doctor. In particular, pain that is bad enough to interfere with routine tasks or getting quality sleep should not be ignored more than a couple weeks.

See Early Treatments for Lower Back Pain

If you have a physically demanding job, such as in construction or welding, it might not be possible to adequately rest the neck and back without taking time off work. In such cases, it could make sense to see the doctor sooner than 2 weeks.

2. Intense pain developed after a collision or fall

If sharp or excruciating neck or back pain starts after a serious accident, such as a bike crash or falling down steps, it needs to be checked by a doctor immediately. High-impact collisions or falls are common sources of damaged vertebrae and/or discs, which may need medical attention to ensure that the spine is stabilized and adequate pain relief is achieved.

Sometimes pain from a collision can be delayed, so don’t let that fool you. An example is whiplash from being rear-ended in a car accident where the head quickly gets whipped backward and forward. In such cases, it’s common for the neck to feel fine after the accident but then start hurting a few hours later or the next morning.

See Whiplash Symptoms and Associated Disorders

3. The pain is accompanied by red flag symptoms

Regardless of the duration or intensity of your neck or back pain, it requires an immediate visit to the doctor if it’s accompanied by any of the following:

  • Radiating pain in the arm or leg
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness in the arm or leg
  • Difficulty with balance, coordination, or bowel/bladder control
  • Severe or unusual headache
  • Fever, chills, or nausea
  • Unplanned weight loss

See When Is a Stiff Neck Serious?

These and other unusual symptoms could potentially be indications of a serious underlying problem, such as spinal cord or nerve root compression, infection, or cancer. Keep in mind that having these symptoms does not necessarily mean that you have a serious underlying condition, and only a doctor can give you an accurate diagnosis.

If you’re ever in doubt about your symptoms, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Seeking a doctor’s professional advice early is better than waiting until the condition has become more difficult to treat. Sometimes just a quick phone call to your doctor’s office or a nurse hotline can give you an answer about the appropriate next step.

Learn more:

Preparing to See A Doctor for Back and Neck Pain

Specialists Who Treat Back Pain

Tightness in your buttocks, hamstrings, and calves can worsen the pain along your sciatic nerve , which runs from your lower back to your feet. Loosen and strengthen those muscle groups by performing these 3 easy stretches:

See What You Need to Know About Sciatica and Sciatica Overview Video

Scissor hamstring stretch

Image of woman doing the scissor hamstring muscle stretch for sciatica pain relief

Strong, flexible hamstrings can help to alleviate sciatic nerve irritation.
Watch:
Scissor Hamstring Stretch for Low Back Pain and Sciatica Relief Video

Tight hamstring muscles can pull on your pelvis, increasing stress on your lower back and irritating your sciatic nerve. Target your hamstrings with this standing stretch:

  1. Stand with your right foot about 3 feet in front of your left foot.
  2. Face your hips and shoulders forward. If possible, check in a mirror to make sure your right hip isn’t more forward than your left hip.
  3. Place your hands on your hips. You can put a hand on a chair off to the side for balance.
  4. Bend at the waist, folding your torso forward over your front leg. Keep your back straight and most of your weight over the front leg.
  5. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then try this stretch with the other leg.

See Sciatic Nerve and Sciatica

Strong, flexible hamstrings can help bring sciatica relief and lessen further aggravation.

See Hamstring Stretching Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

Standing calf stretch

Image of woman doing the standing calf muscle stretch for sciatica pain relief

If your calves are tight and you're experiencing sciatica-like pain, try this stretch.
Watch
Video: Standing Calf Muscle Stretch

Calf muscles are easily overlooked, but their tightness is often associated with sciatica-like pain. Here’s one simple yet powerful stretch to keep these muscles loose:

  1. Stand facing a wall, about 2 steps away from the wall.
  2. Put your right foot forward, slightly bending your right knee. Keep your left heel grounded to the floor.
  3. Bring your upper body slightly forward, using the wall for stability. You should feel a stretch in the back of your calf.
  4. Hold this stretch for 10 to 20 seconds.
  5. Next, bend the knee of your back leg slightly. You should feel a stretch in another part of your calf.
  6. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds.

Carefully step out of the stretch, and try it with your left leg forward and right leg back.

Supine piriformis stretch

Image of woman doing the supine piriformis muscle stretch for sciatica pain relief

The supine piriformis muscle stretch helps to relieve sciatica pain caused by piriformis syndrome.
Watch
Video: Supine Piriformis Muscle Stretch for Sciatic Pain Relief #2

Stretching the piriformis muscle, located deep in the buttock, is often necessary to help relieve pain along the sciatic nerve. Here’s how to do this stretch if your left leg is affected by the pain (alternate directions if your right side is affected):

  1. Lie on your back with your legs extended straight.
  2. Cross your left leg over your right thigh, planting your left foot on the outside of your right knee.
  3. Grab your left knee with your right hand, gently pulling your leg toward the right side.
  4. Once you feel a stretch, hold for 30 seconds. Try not to lift your hip off the ground during this stretch.
  5. Slowly return to starting position.

See Piriformis Muscle Stretch and Physical Therapy

Try to work your way up to 3 sets of stretches.

See Sciatica Exercises for Piriformis Syndrome Video

The above stretches may help decrease painful symptoms and improve your range of motion. A doctor can help diagnose the underlying cause of your sciatica and identify which stretches might work best for you.

See Sciatica Causes

Learn more:

Sciatica Treatment

Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

When you suffer from sciatica symptoms, travel can be a daunting, and painful, experience. But whether it is for work or family, long car and plane rides are sometimes unavoidable.

See Sciatica Symptoms and Types

Radiating pain in the sciatic nerve Sciatica refers to a set of symptoms caused by an underlying lower back problem. See The Truth About Sciatica

We can’t promise a pain-free experience, but these 3 pointers can help you manage your symptoms while traveling with sciatica:

See What You Need to Know About Sciatica

1. Carry disposable ice and/or heat packs

If you are planning a long car ride, one thing you can’t account for is a sciatica flare-up. So it’s a good idea to pack a few disposable ice and/or heat packs in order to tame your sciatica symptoms.

See Ice Packs for Back Pain Relief

The cold therapy can help alleviate your sciatica by reducing inflammation and numbing your sore tissue. The on-the-go heat therapy stimulates heat receptors in your skin, which in turn causes your brain to focus less on your sciatic pain.

See Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain

These packs can be kept in an easy-to-reach place, such as your glove compartment. And since they are activated by chemical reactions, you won’t need a cooler full of ice or to plug anything into your cigarette lighter.

See How to Apply Heat Therapy

But be aware that disposable cold and/or heat packs are not allowed on airplanes.

See Sciatica First Aid

2. Lighten your luggage load

Heavy luggage can place a large working load on your lumbar spine (lower back), which in turn may provoke sciatica symptoms like pain in your leg or numbness in your foot.

See Leg Pain and Numbness: What Might These Symptoms Mean?

To avoid unnecessary strain when traveling by air, consider shipping your luggage ahead of time. This will ensure you don’t have to lift any heavy items—and as a bonus it will keep you from having to check any luggage at the airport.

See Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

If shipping ahead of time is not an option, avoid one large suitcase and instead use several smaller ones. And, if possible, try to purchase luggage with wheels to minimize your need for carrying suitcases over long distances.

See Pain-Free Travel Tips

3. Move around when traveling with sciatica

You may be surprised to hear that sitting places more stress on your lumbar spine than standing. This means that sitting for long periods of time can make your sciatica symptoms worse.

See Hamstring Stretching Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

One simple way to help with this problem is to move around every 20 to 30 minutes. This can mean light stretching, or walking to the airplane bathroom and back.

See Hamstring Stretching Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

If you are flying, make sure to alert the crew ahead of time of your sciatica problem and your need to move around.

See Sciatica Treatment

As a bonus tip, while sitting you can minimize the pressure on your lower back by ensuring your feet are firmly planted on the ground and your knees are at a right angle. So use cruise control while driving over long distances, and adjust your seat—and bring a foot rest if necessary—when traveling by air.

See Sciatica Exercises for Sciatica Pain Relief

I hope all of the above advice will help minimize your sciatica symptoms—which in turn will make for a far more enjoyable traveling experience.

Learn more:

Myths About Sciatica Treatment Options

Physical Therapy and Exercise for Sciatica

Whether you have lower back that is piercing and intermittent or achy and constant, you are likely wondering if your symptoms are a cause for concern.

See Lower Back Pain Symptoms

lower back pain If back pain symptoms persist after a few weeks, seeing a doctor to accurately diagnosis the cause of your back pain is a good first step. Read Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Each case of back pain is unique, but the information below can help you determine if your lower back pain is serious.

What is “serious back pain”?

In this blog, when I say serious back pain, I mean back pain that requires a visit to a doctor.

The severity of your symptoms is not the only indicator as to whether your lower back pain is serious. For example, pain from a pulled lower back muscle can be intense, but it will typically subside after a few days of basic at-home care.

See Pulled Back Muscle and Lower Back Strain

In contrast, lumbar degenerative disc disease can cause a moderate, dull ache in the lower back—this kind of pain is not necessarily intense, but it may get worse over time without treatment. In these cases, a physician can recommend a long-term treatment plan.

See Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease Treatment

When lower back pain is serious

As a general rule, if your lower back pain does not subside within 1 to 2 weeks, you should visit your doctor. Odds are that your pain is not a sign of a medical emergency, but a doctor can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.

See Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis

A good treatment plan will address your symptoms as well as the underlying condition causing them. Conversely, a wrong diagnosis and treatments can sometimes make your back pain worse.

Following up with your doctor

After making treatment recommendations, a doctor will typically ask to see you again in 6 to 12 weeks. In the interim, if your chronic back pain symptoms do not improve or even get worse with treatment, you can contact your doctor’s office and ask about adjusting the treatment plan.

Chronic Pain As a Disease: Why Does It Still Hurt?

For example, if you have been diagnosed with chronic lower back pain caused by degenerative disc disease, you may be prescribed a muscle relaxant or advised to take an over-the-counter pain reliever. If you find the recommended medication causes side effects that you can’t tolerate, your doctor can recommend alternatives.

Medications for Back and Neck Pain

Lower back pain that may be a medical emergency

If your lower back pain is accompanied by other troubling symptoms, it may require immediate medical attention. Seek immediate medical care if your lower back pain is experienced in tandem with any of the following symptoms:

  • Increasing weakness in your legs
  • Loss of bladder and/or bowel control
  • Severe stomach pain
  • High fever

When Back Pain May Be a Medical Emergency

This list is not exhaustive. When in doubt about your lower back pain, see your doctor. It is almost always worth your time to schedule an appointment—even if it is only for your peace of mind.

Learn more:

Types of Back Pain

When to Seek Medical Care for Low Back Pain





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