Spine Health and Inflammation
Inflammation is a double-edged sword. Not all inflammation is bad — some is actually necessary for proper healing. The problem with inflammation occurs when it continues for longer than it should, or in areas of the body that it shouldn’t, without any reduction in pain. This can be especially troublesome when it comes to the health of your spine, as it may signal a bigger problem that you need to get checked out right away.
Let’s discuss what inflammation is, when it’s healthy and when it’s not — and what you need to be aware of when it comes to your spinal health.
What is Inflammation?
Whenever our bodies go through some type of trauma — whether it’s good trauma (like a workout) or bad trauma (like an injury) — inflammation is responsible for kickstarting the healing process. Inflammation has a series of important tasks to take care of in order to ensure proper healing, including tossing out damaged cells and tissues while ushering in disease-fighting white blood cells. The type of inflammation that your body needs in order to heal is called acute information.
Symptoms of Inflammation
Not sure if you have inflammation? Here are the most common symptoms of inflammation:
Pain: The first and most obvious symptom is pain, which can vary depending on the reason for the inflammation. For example, muscle soreness from a workout is manageable, while the constant aching from an injury might require some form of pain relief. Inflammation intensifies soreness and pain because the nerve endings are more sensitive.
Warmth and Redness: Inflammation encourages more blood flow to the area of trauma. As a result, you may notice that there is more body heat and possibly redness there. For example after a workout, you may feel soreness and warmth localized to the muscle you targeted the previous day.
Swelling: Blood flow isn’t the only thing that will increase in the affected area; inflammation also increases fluid retention, which is why you could have a puffy or swollen look. Think about what happens if you bump your leg too hard on something: it instantly swells up, requiring ice to reduce the swelling. This is an example of swelling via inflammation.
Difficulty Using the Affected Body Part: Have you ever gone through a workout and the next day you find it difficult to lift your arms? This is an example of inflammation that impacts the normal functioning of the body. But it’s not limited to exercise. Sustaining an injury can also trigger inflammation that makes it difficult to move.
While these symptoms can be painful and annoying, inflammation is key to restoring proper functioning in the body. Problems can occur when inflammation lasts for longer than several days.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
There are two types of inflammation: acute and chronic.
Acute inflammation only lasts for a few days. You’ll experience many of the symptoms from above, but you’ll notice they subside gradually until the healing process is complete.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, can last for weeks, months, or even years. The longer it lasts, the more potential damage it can cause. For example, chronic inflammation can increase your chances of developing allergies and diseases such as arthritis.
Inflammation and Spine Health
So why is this important for your spinal health? Chronic inflammation in the spine can be a sign of a serious medical condition.
Back pain is the most commonly reported symptom at a doctor’s office. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, more than 80% of people will report symptoms of back pain at some point in their lives. There are two types of back pain to be aware of: mechanical and inflammatory.
Mechanical back pain
This is the most common type of back pain. Mechanical back pain occurs when the joints and discs, as well as the surrounding soft tissues of the spine, are giving you trouble due to minor or everyday aggravation. For example, you overdid it at the gym, you threw your back out helping a friend move, or you slept on an old mattress. Mechanical back pain is easily treated with rest, stretching, and physical therapy exercises.
Inflammatory back pain
Inflammatory back pain can share many of the same symptoms as mechanical back pain, but the swelling of the spine and the sacroiliac joints can be a sign that you’re at risk of, or currently developing, an autoimmune disease called spondyloarthritis.
What is Spondyloarthritis?
An autoimmune disease occurs when your body attacks itself. In the case of spondyloarthritis, your body begins to attack the discs and vertebrae in your spinal column. The most common symptoms of spondyloarthritis is lower back pain, so naturally it often goes undetected and untreated for months or years.
Left untreated, spondyloarthritis can fuse the vertebrae in the spine, resulting in a dramatic reduction or elimination of mobility in that area. If you have been experiencing chronic inflammation and lower back pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss testing and potential treatment options.
Treating Different Types of Inflammation
Whether you are experiencing acute inflammation from a workout or lower back inflammation that doesn’t go away, here are some ways to treat the different types of inflammation:
Cold Therapy: Place an ice pack on the affected area for fifteen minutes, several times per day. A bag of frozen peas or a frozen towel can work wonders a few times a day.
Stretching: Light stretching or a yoga class can help to loosen up the muscles and alleviate the swelling from the inflammation. Deep breathing, along with body movement and stretching, can allow fresh oxygen to navigate to the areas of pain and help release minor tension. The key here is consistency. Find 10-20 minutes each day to take mindful breaths that accompany body stretching.
Natural Supplements: Consider using a natural supplement such as curcumin to help with the inflammation. Curcumin has been shown in studies and clinical trials to promote a healthy response to inflammation in the body, making it a great supplement to help with both acute and chronic inflammation, so long as it’s combined with the right support ingredients.
Diet: Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet that is at least 80% natural and organic, including fresh vegetables and fruits. Avoid processed, fried, or high-sugar foods. Also try to limit your consumption of dairy and alcohol.
Sleep: Be sure to get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Your body thrives on schedules, so go to bed and get up each day at the same time. Shut off electronic devices at least an hour before you head to bed. If you have trouble sleeping, try some of these natural tips for better sleep, or a natural supplement that can help you catch better zzz’s.
Stress Management: Making sure you address the stressors in your life is just as important in creating the balance needed for a pain-free body as the food you eat and sleep you are getting. Make time to do some breathing exercises, walk outside, take a relaxing bath, read a book, and move your body so that endorphins flood your body and elevate your mood. Keeping heaviness and emotional trauma in your constant thoughts will elevate negative stress hormones and keep inflammation up, which may in turn manifest in the form of physical pain. A nice 10-minute walk outdoors can work wonders!
Better Spinal Health through Prevention
The best way to maintain a healthy spine is to adopt a spine-friendly lifestyle. Stretch daily, exercise with resistance such as weights, and avoid inflammation-causing foods such as processed or fried choices. If you do have any symptoms of chronic inflammation that prevent you from functioning on a regular and daily basis, be sure to follow up with your health care professional for additional advice.