Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back Pain Update

I wrote in posts on this blog over the last few months about trouble that I was having with back pain due to psoriatic arthritis and what steps I was taking in my quest to reduce the pain. Well, I am pleased to be able to now write that my back is almost pain-free. It is an ongoing process, of course, but I think that I have a pretty good understanding of what did the most good for me.

I think that it was carelessness on my part that caused my back to trouble me as much as it did. I have had back problems from when I was about 12 years old, after a fall of about 6ft that landed me on my knees on a hard floor. I was treated by a chiropractor and slept on a 4" coir mattress on a solid wooden base for the next 10 years as part of the remedy. It was very rigid and unyielding, so it was funny when friends visited and flopped down onto my bed, remembering with a jolt how hard it was.

That kept my back happy for decades and I became complacent. I didn't take care of it the way that I should have, so eventually it grabbed my attention and I had to pay for it. The final straw was about 18 months ago while working on a vintage car that I am rebuilding. I pushed and twisted at the same time and threw my back out very badly. Against the advice of my chiropractor, I was back surfing and sailing again within 10 days, albeit in a back brace, although he recommended that I lay off for 6-8 weeks.

I have come to realise that there is another contributing factor. I have always relied on my surfing, sailing and hiking on the mountains to keep me fit. That worked well in Cape Town, where there is surf almost all the time, it is warm enough for year-round sailing and I was surrounded by mountains. Not so here in Virginia Beach. The only mountain is a converted refuse dump something less than 100ft high, the winters are too cold for regular dinghy sailing and the occurrences of decent surf few and far between. Here I need to supplement with regular sessions on my home exercise equipment. Work pressures get in the way of me exercising as often as I should, so my core muscles can sometimes get a bit lazy. The result can be a sloppy posture, followed by back pain.

OK, so what have I done that has improved the condition of my back?

  1. Stretching my back. I mentioned that I had a trapeze bar in my home in Cape Town and used to hang upside-down by my knees. The weight of my upper body pulling downward stretched my back and allowed it to realign. I have not figured how to rig that in my home here in Virginia Beach, so had to come up with a different plan. I bought an inexpensive ($20) exercise bar that hooks onto the head of a door frame and I placed it in a doorway where it could stay there permanently. At least 7 or 8 times each day I stop under that bar and do 6-8 pull-ups (chin-ups) before continuing whatever I was doing. I do it with my legs straight but sticking out in front of me at the best angle that I can manage. The hanging stretches my back and I hear the vertebrae popping back into alignment. They are also pulled apart, allowing my disks to suck back into their rightful positions and reinflate, thereby helping to keep my vertebrae further apart. Sticking my legs out in front of me loads up my abs to strengthen my core, helping to keep my back properly aligned.
  2. Doing core-strengthening exercises. Aside from the abs exercise mentioned above, I also do various other core-strengthening exercises and stretches, all aimed at keeping my spine supple and in proper alignment. These include push-ups, squats, body twists and using the rowing facility on my exercise machine. Getting the strength and flexibility back into my core muscles gives proper support to my spine from all sides.
  3.  Supplementing with hyaluronic acid (HA). This substance is the primary ingredient of synovial fluid, the lubricant and cushioning material in our joints. It is also in our ligaments, tendons, skin, lips, eyes and almost everywhere else in the body. It lubricates, binds, fills and makes flexible. As we age, our bodies produce progressively less HA, so our joints bind, tendons and ligaments weaken and lose elasticity, our eyesight weakens and our skin wrinkles. I have found that the right HA supplement has helped to return flexibility to my joints, so maybe I will also see improvements in other parts of my body. I had read that the most effective form is in the patented complex named Biocell Collagen. I found a few brands with Biocell Collagen and chose the brand Hydraplenish, mostly because it was on reduced price special at the time. It worked and I started to feel improvement. When the bottle was empty I decided to try a much cheaper brand, just hyaluronic acid and vitamin C. Within days I felt that I was going backwards a bit, so went back to the Hydraplenish brand. In future I will stay with brands that contain Biocell Collagen.
  4. Further increasing my intake of anti-oxidant foods. This is mostly by increasing the amount of colourful vegetables, combined with reduced red meat intake. Red meat and processed foods generate toxins in the body and anti-oxidants break them down and remove them from the bloodstream. This results in reduced inflammation throughout the body. Reduced inflammation results in improvements in all parts of the body, including joints.
Overall, my back is now way better than it was a month ago. Pain is less than 5% of what it was not long ago. Aside from a mild pain immediately after getting out of bed, I am virtually pain-free. I feel that I am on the right track and will continue along this path.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Friendships & Inflammation

I said that I would no doubt be writing about inflammation in the future but didn't expect it to be this soon.

Yesterday I read an interesting article by Carole Jackson of  Daily Health about research that has been done into the effects of friendship on our health. The results are quite fascinating.

A study was done of British men and women by Dr Noriko Cable over a 5-year period to establish the effects on mental well-being of having or not having many friends. A previous study had already shown that having friends reduces inflammation in the body and this new study sought to build on that earlier study.

The participants were asked to say approximately how many friends they had, with whom they met at least once a month. Five years later the study followed up to establish their psychological well-being. The results showed that people with more than 10 friends had a higher level of confidence and contentment than those who had less than 10 friends. That can be translated into feeling less stress if you have more friends. Read the full article here.

Many people who have psoriasis, arthritis and various other auto-immune conditions find that it is aggravated by periods of increased stress. We knew this was an effect of stress but not why or how it happens. These two studies seem to hold one possible answer, in that friendships reduce stress, which reduces inflammation.

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry about inflammation showing in X-rays, both on the skin (where it appears as psoriasis) and internally on various organs. Psoriasis involves inflammation in and on many parts of the body. Arthritis involves inflammation in the joints. For these conditions, inflammation plays a major part in creating the discomfort and pain that can make the lives of people with these conditions anywhere from mildly inconvenient through to thoroughly miserable.

We need to do whatever we can to minimise that inflammation and, according to these studies, increasing the number and quality of our friendships can help in that quest.

The quality of your friendships is important in this because we all know people who are simply more trouble than they are worth. They are in the friendship for what they can get out of it rather than to simply be a good friend. Or they are negative about themselves, us or their situations, with nothing positive to say about anything. These people drain us and can be unpleasant to have around; they create stress rather than alleviating it.

Friendship is a two-way street, with both parties needing to feel good about the relationship. If you regularly come away from meeting with such a friend feeling stressed in some way then you have to ask yourself if that friendship is worth maintaining into the future. We need to get such people out of our lives and to rather build up friendships with people who have a positive attitude, people with whom we share common interests and pleasures. When we associate with people who make us feel good about ourselves we feel less stressed. The lower stress levels will translate into less inflammation, which will ease the symptoms of your psoriasis and/or arthritis.