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Health and Beauty Articles

Don’t ignore your back problems!

Very seldom do I have people coming into the salon for a back massage who have no back problems – neither a knot, nor an aggravated nerve or a disc that’s slipped in sight. I’ll admit, when these fortunate people do enter the salon I initially say a (silent) ‘I hate you’; not that I hate the person in question but that I have insane envy for any person that has zero problems with their back.
If you are one of these fortunate people then you need not read on, you can sit horizontally at your desk with poor posture to your heart’s content! If you are of the latter then it would benefit you to do the opposite by absorbing the following information, starting by sitting up straight!

Knots, tension and pulled muscles

Minor back problems can be just as disruptive to daily life as major problems. Minor back problems tend to be ‘knots’, tension and pulled muscles.
In my humble opinion doing things that are out with your bodies capabilities can promote these kinds of problems – and let’s face it – we ALL do it! If you feel a wee ‘twinge’ during the day when you’re heavy lifting, getting stressed or exercising you can be assured that you’ll suffer the consequences the day after with a tight, uncomfortable, sometimes painful feeling in the affected area.
What the heck happens to our muscles to cause these reactions?
A combination of lactic acid accumulation, irregular muscle contractions and trigger points are the main culprits. When our muscles are working i.e. if you’re lifting weights, our muscles work on an active/relaxed sequence. When the muscles are too stretched they don’t resolve back to their normal state, thus lactic acid can build up and the muscle stretches and starts to spasm. When the muscle spasms it means the muscle is constantly working; resulting in a throbbing feeling that can take days to pass before the muscle relaxes back to normal.
Common areas for these knots are in the shoulders and the neck. Muscles like the deltoids (shoulder blade) and the trapezius (triangular area surrounding the shoulders and neck) are most commonly affected.
Larger areas like the lower back aren’t typically described as knots; tension in this area tends to be a more ‘nagging’, drawn out pain rather than a localised pain in a smaller area. Areas that are commonly affected in the lower back are the oblique muscles and the gluteus muscles (at the very base of the back.)
Shoulder tension and neck tension go hand in hand with tension headaches. If you feel a dull, aching headache press your two thumbs into the base of your skull (directly above your neck.) If you feel these trigger points painful to press then this is the home of your headache!
So folks! That’s all very well boring you with what’s going on in those pesky muscles. You need to know what to do about it!
As you may have assumed I’m a firm believer that massage is one of the most healing remedies for muscular tension. I and clients alike vouch that massage helps with a range of back problems, ranging from muscular tension, sciatic pain and disc discomfort. Hot stone massage combined with Swedish massage is the most effective if you have any of these problems.
Ever get that ‘ahhh’ feeling when you slip into the bath and feel your whole body relax? Stone therapy works on the same principle. The stones are heated to about 160 degrees (this sounds extreme but feels divine!) and are worked all over the affected area. The heat penetrates about 10 times deeper into the muscles than a therapist physically can. Without the stones the first half of a massage is effectively wasted as the muscles aren’t heated enough for any remedial change to happen – the stones achieve this in seconds. Combined with firm Swedish movements the muscular knots will start to disperse – if not immediately then the day after the massage.
Asides from massage there’s a lot you can do for your back ache.
Exercise is a must if you have a bad back. General exercise such as swimming and yoga are most effective for strengthening the back muscles. Physiotherapy can provide specific exercises for you to do at home on daily basis – these tend to be very effective; but not if you have the old, ‘Och, I’ll do them when I remember,’ attitude!
Slouching at your desk is a big no-no if you want to have a healthy back. If you are at a desk all day then try moving around when your body starts to feel stiff and consciously make an effort to sit better at your chair –crossing legs or leaning forward with a hunch back is not good posture! Placing a firm pillow on the chair will make a big difference to helping the muscles stay relaxed and not strained.  
Sleeping positions can be a common cause of neck pain. Too many or too little pillows can contribute to neck and shoulder pain. Ideally your spine should be as straight as possible, so a medium size pillow is ideal to help encourage this.

 ‘Slipped’ or prolapsed disc

A disc is the cartilage that is inbetween the vertebrae that run down the spine, and is made up of connective tissue and a gel-like core. The purpose of the disc is to help flexibility in the spine and for general protection of the vertebrae. The term ‘slipped disc’ can be very misleading however. It should be called a ‘bulge’ disc is anything!
When the soft part of the disc bulges through the connective tissue it can push onto the nerve roots or spine – often causing excruciating pain. This can happen suddenly and cause a person to physically collapse - as I found out last year when my fiancé (sorry, husband!) was carted off in an ambulance after experiencing this. His recovery took about 3 long months but may have been quicker if he’d kept to his physiotherapy exercises! General recovery time is about four to six weeks.
This problem is most common is men and women aged between 30 and 50 – with twice as many men being affected.
Treatment for disc trauma isn’t as straight forward as other back problems. It’s one of those irritating ‘time heals all’ mantras but this tends to be the case – lots and lots of rest combined with physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory pain relief supplied by your GP is the general treatment.  Although massage can be beneficial for relaxing the surrounding muscles it’s never going to cure this type of injury. However chiropractors and osteopaths can be very effective in helping with disc problems.
For severe cases surgery can be considered. It’s not generally recommended as success rates are only between 60-90% i.e. your problem might still be there when you come round from a not very nice operation! However, if you experience increased bladder problems, paralysis of the limbs or changes in muscle spasticity medical help should be sought immediately.

Sciatic pain

The term sciatic refers to symptoms such as leg pain, tingling, numbness or weakness that begins in the lower back and travels down the large sciatic nerve into the back of the leg. Symptoms can be painful but it is rare that permanent nerve damage can occur. It’s most common around the age of 50, rarely happening in early life.
Heat or ice packs help to alleviate the nerve pain, especially if caught in the initial onset. Acupuncture, physiotherapy, massage therapy and chiropractic treatment can all be very effective as well. The healing time tends to be less than you’d think, sometimes clearing in a matter of days, but with more aggressive cases taking a few weeks.
Please don’t be one of the people who suffer in silence and ignore your back problems. There’s a vast range of treatments available that WILL help you – and remember – SIT UP STRAIGHT! Oh heck, I really am starting to sound like my mother!

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