In January I wrote about our new machine for rehydrating and healing injured discs, the DRX 9000. It will help heal up a disc problem and avoid painful and costly surgery. It’s great that we have that available after we have injured our discs but how do we stop the disc injury from happening in the first place. Do we have to have degenerated discs just because we are over 40? I don’t think that is a normal progression for bodies.
Oh my Aching Back!
Ever heard anyone say, "All I did was bend over for that pencil and I felt something go in my back."? Are our backs really that weak or is there more to the story? When I was in school I remember how the "experts" felt that we just weren’t meant to be erect and so that was why we had problems with our backs. It was an evolutionary mistake and we had to do our best to cope with it. I have yet to see God or Mother Nature mistakenly design something but I have seen us not fully understand many things in nature. Our spines are engineering marvels that are still not fully understood today. One thing that is known is that we create many of our physical problems with our lifestyles.
The spinal discs are made up of fibrocartilage and type I collagen on the outside and a gelatinous nucleus on the inside. If you are lacking in Vitamin C complex, you will be unable to keep up the strength of the collagen that forms the outer layer of the disc. This will breakdown with pressure and use and start the disc to degenerate. People who develop osteoarthritis also have a lack of vitamin C complex and we see many degenerated arthritic spines to go along with those degenerated discs. People who have gingivitis usually will have osteoarthritis in some form. So bleeding gums or bruising easily tells you that you are Vitamin C complex deficient and a good candidate to develop osteoarthritis and disc problems. Also, a lack of minerals in the diet and not drinking enough water will dehydrate the spinal discs and cause degeneration and herniation. Eating raw vegetables and fruit as your source of Vitamin C will help reverse this.
Tight hamstrings, bad posture, improper lifting of heavy loads, short leg on one side, muscle imbalances and weaknesses can all help create an acute or chronic disc problem. Tonic muscles are the postural muscles that always have some tone or contraction occurring to hold up our heads or backs, etc. Phasic muscles have phases where they are at rest and phases where they are contracting. These are the muscles responsible for movement. Although no muscle is truly 100% tonic or phasic it does help to describe their major function. Injuries occur when the tonic muscles are shortened and the phasic muscles are too weak. This muscle imbalance puts an imbalanced pull on our spine and other joints. This leads to degenerated joints and displaced discs. Eventually this imbalance wears out the spine and we have disc degeneration.
Predominantly Tonic Predominantly Phasic
Erector muscles of the lumbar and cervical spine abdominal muscles
Quadratus Lumborum muscles Erector muscles middle thoracic spine
Scalene muscles(front of neck) Upper and Middle Trapezius
Hamstrings Gluteus maximus, medius & minimus
Lower Trapezius Rhomboid muscles
Iliopsoas muscle Vastus medialis and lateralis (front of leg)
You need to first stretch the tight tonic muscle and then strengthen the weak phasic muscle to correct these imbalances. Tonic muscles need to be strengthened with isometric exercises and phasic muscles do better with dynamic muscle contractions. Static contraction or isometric contractions help the tonic muscles get stronger and improve their endurance. We have incorporated these concepts into the exercises we now recommend you do to rehabilitate your back or to prevent injury.
Saggy Butt and Gut
Just sitting in chairs shortens our hamstrings and we then develop an improper bending rhythm in the low back. Normally as you bend forward your pelvis should rotate on your femur heads. If your hamstrings are too tight it locks the pelvis from rotating forward and all the motion comes from the low back. This eventually causes an over-flexed lumbar spine which stretches the ligaments and the discs and creates instability and future disc injury and degeneration. Because we sit so much, many of us have lost the strength in the butt muscles (Gluteus maximus). If your G. max is weak then your erectors take over and that puts more stress on the back. Soon your lumbar erectors are firing all the time and become "facilitated" which means they contract easily and at the wrong times. The G. max helps us to stand up from a squatting position which is not something we do much anymore, hence the chronic weakness of this muscle. Weak Transverse Abdominus (TVA) muscles also remove the stability needed in the back to lift properly which sets you up for spinal injuries. The TVA works with the Oblique Abdominals and the thoracolumbar fascia to stabilize the back and hold the discs intact via the internal hydraulic mechanism. Most people have no idea how to contract your TVA muscles so get our Ab Exercise sheet that shows you how.
If you have one leg shorter than the other one you will eventually wear out your discs and your back. You can develop an anatomically shorter leg because one of your leg bones is shorter or you can have a functional short leg that is caused by a joint being out of place in your leg or your pelvis. Either way, it is like walking around all day with one shoe on and one shoe off. You can imagine the stress that would cause on your back! We can test you to see if you need a heel lift to help correct this problem.
The Neck, Too
The head forward posture that you see many people walking around with will eventually wear out the discs in the lower cervical spine. The scalene neck muscles and the muscles in the chest get tight and short and the Rhomboids and the Traps get weak and pulls the head forward. For every inch forward from normal posture the head sits, the effective weight of the head doubles. So if your head weighs 8 lbs than one inch forward of neutral means your head now weighs 16 lbs to your spinal discs. Two inches forward and the head weighs 24 pounds, etc. You can see the stress of this posture will eventually degenerate the ligaments and discs of the cervical spine. That posture will also develop Thoracic Outlet Syndrome which will cause numbness in the hands and is often mistakenly diagnosed as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. We have exercises to correct this, too.
It will soon be Spring Break for the Boulder Valley School District and my girls have been bugging me for 2 years to take them back to Universal Studios/Islands of Adventure in Orlando during their break. They have Mardi Gras parades (family oriented) and they want their free beads and to see the free concerts. So I will be out of the office the week of March 27th but the staff will still be there to help you.
See also www.boulderdrx.com