Last week, I began discussing how mental and emotional stress impact the body, by creating neck, shoulder, and back muscle stiffness, which are not only painful, but can also be incapacitating and disheartening. The condition also comes with other side effects. The pain disrupts sound sleep, making the individual toss and turn to avoid the pain or find a less painful position. With poor quality sleep, the person wakes up not only tired and cranky, but also with more muscle aches, resulting in reduced productivity. Today, I will pursue the subject by addressing the other aspects of muscle spasms.
Let us see now the other areas of muscle spasms and pain.
Apart from the neck, shoulders, and upper back, stress related muscle problems also attack the mid-back where the curve of the spine is located. This happens when the upper and lower abdominal muscles are weak, putting the strain of the bodyweight on mid-back muscles, which tense in response to the load. The wrong movement during exercise or lifting heavy weights in an incorrect way, like bending forward without bending the knees and tightening the abdominals, can trigger painful muscular spasms. This type of muscle tension is very painful and incapacitating, requiring bed rest and wet heat.
Put a wet towel or wax paper between the skin and heat pad for not more than fifteen minutes at a time. Wet heat relieves pain and relaxes the contracted muscles much more than dry heat. To heal muscle spasm, you need to increase blood flow to the area and stretch it. Light massage and heat pads are helpful. You should also move as much as possible.
Muscle spasms in different locations around the spine require approaches such as physiotherapy, massages, heat pads, exercise, stretching movements, therapeutic exercises, acupuncture, healthy diet, supplements and meditation to ease the intense pain. One of the first things to do is to practice self-awareness and study yourself: personality, responses to mental and emotional pressures, relationships and examine your workplace and its atmosphere, as well as your environment in order to understand the cause of stress you are dealing with. Ask yourself questions about the issues that bother you. Don’t keep them bottled inside. Discuss them with friends, relatives or colleagues. Find a way to ease the pressure.
After recovery, you should seriously consider taking up exercises to strengthen your core muscles with a personal trainer. You can exercise with the ball with your trainer to develop the abdominals and stretch back muscles. Here are a couple of helpful exercises.
The plank position is also important to strengthen the abdominals and back muscles. Lie flat on the tummy. Raise and support your bodyweight with the palms of your hands and curled toes, keeping elbows straight and facing the floor. Maintain the plank position straight without arching the back or dropping buttocks below the shoulders. Hold the position for at least one minute and repeat to build your abs. It is also important to stand straight with tucked buttocks and tightened abdominals and back straight. Maintain a slight curve above the sacrum.
As for muscle spasms in the lower back, they also occur from sitting for long hours. Staying in the same position for an extended period is stressful on the back. It puts pressure on the muscles around the lumbar, when the opposite abdominal muscles and glutes are relaxed.
Bending the body without flexing the knees also triggers backache. Stretching is required before sitting and after leaving your seat and after getting out of bed and before retiring to bed to prevent muscle tension. Standing and stretching like a cat every now and then prevents muscle stiffness. Sitting with straight back and contracted abdominal muscles is important to balance the position.
Bad sleeping positions sometimes cause the neck, shoulder, or lumbar muscles to tense up. Stretching in bed morning and night by bending the knees toward the abs to lengthen back muscles can prevent muscle tension. Doing abdominal exercises during the day relieves lower back spasms. Deep inhalations and exhalations are necessary for the healing process.
Another area that gets affected by long sedentary positions is the buttock muscle, the glutes, which are attached to the sit bones. Long-hours of sitting tighten these muscles and bad positions shift the pressure to the lower back. To prevent muscle tension in these spots, sit straight in the chair with back well supported. Keep rocking back and forth and sideways to minimize the pressure on one given area. Moving from the seat and taking short walks every once in a while activate the glutes, relieve and stretch them, and encourage blood flow in these spots.
Sitting for long stretches not only impacts the glutes, but also the long muscles (hamstrings) at the back of the thighs, by causing them to shorten and tighten. Eventually, the upper body leans backwards, altering the walk and increasing risk of falling and injury. Bending forward and stretching when standing or sitting on the floor with extended legs loosens and stretches the tight muscles of the back, thighs, and legs. Breathing in and out deeply help the hands reach the toes. The position should be maintained for a minute or so. After several daily attempts the fingers begin to reach the toes or floor. Regular stretching will help touching the floor with flat palms. The more flexible you are; the more flexible your muscles and tendons you will become.
Sitting too long most of the day also causes other health complications. What is alarming is the result of a study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, a research journal. The researchers of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana examined the lifestyle habits of 17,000 males and females over the span of 13 years and came up with these results. Those, who spent most of their day sitting, were 54 percent more prone to dying of heart attacks, i.e. the study linked sedentary lifestyles to heart disease and fatality. One of the researchers believes that “sitting is an independent risk factor,” despite physical activity and a healthy diet.
A well-known British study showed that bus drivers were at twice the risk of dying of heart attacks than their more active counterparts, the bus conductors. The risk doubles with sitting most of the day. Researcher, Marc Hamilton, PhD, says that an enzyme by the name of lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is responsible for breaking fat and converting it into energy. This enzyme is found to be ten folds more in the bodies of standing lab rats than in the lying (supine) ones. Even fit rats, once they lie down their LPL levels drops dramatically. He hypothesizes that the human body reacts in the same way. So keep moving!
Next week, I will continue on the other health implications of inactivity on the body. I shall also elaborate on methods to ease painful back muscle spasms and to de-stress with different natural healthy lifestyle practices.
The Most Dangerous Thing You’ll Do All Day, by Bill Philips and the Editors of Men’s Health
Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural.
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