My experiences in the hyperbaric chamber have allowed me to feel the immediate benefit, especially for my low back disc pain, from a forced high-pressure system. Almost everyone has friends, parents or grandparents who do not need the weather man to tell them a storm is approaching; they can feel it coming! This is why so many grandparents love the high atmospheric pressure and increased warm living in Arizona and other desert cities.
Back Pain, Inflammation, and Weather
Weather conditions are a part of life we cannot change, other than where we choose to live. Many times inflammatory conditions in the physical body can be prevented by strength work, sound body biomechanics, moderation, ample sleep and nutritional supplements. Just like our cars, regular maintenance care can prevent breakdowns. For many people avoiding some foods like gluten can reduce inflammation in the body. Try to avoid or reduce your gluten intake for a week to decide if this helps reduce your pain. This includes most beers and soy sauce.
Always consult a doctor when you are not able to reduce the pain on your own.
Dr. Paul R. Copeskey, DC, CCFC
Back Pain, Inflammation, and Weather
Barometric pressure is the measure of the atmospheric pressure of the air exerted onto the earth. The weight of this air or its pressure on us is measured by an instrument called a barometer. Generally speaking, low atmospheric pressure weather systems (cold fronts) begin with changes to the barometric pressure. They usually bring winds accompanied by a rapid air pressure drop as the cold front arrives. The center of the cold front continues with a rapid air pressure reduction and increased humidity, followed by an equally rapid rise in air pressure and decreased humidity as the front passes. So low pressure weather systems, especially rapid moving ones, bring extreme changes in temperature, pressure, humidity, along with gusty winds. Add several storms back to back and you have what I call inflammatory weather and all the triggers needed to bring out some of your body's physical weak links.
In terms of the human body, barometric pressure changes can exacerbate or trigger bulging discs, joints, old chronic injuries like sprained knees and ankles, back pain, radiating nerve conditions, prior surgeries, even migraines and cluster headaches. A low barometric pressure system affects the body by having less compressive forces exerted onto it, therefore more inflammation. When the barometric pressure is low and humidity high, the increased inflammation impedes our mobility by inflaming our joints. Rapid and repeated changes in the air pressure prevent our bodies from proper repair and recovery from our workouts. Patients with bulging discs, our spine's water-filled shock absorbers, are especially vulnerable to changes in barometric pressure. Even the fluid-filled capsules surrounding the joints of our hands and knees, as well as those in the spine, become inflamed with low barometric pressure, many times causing almost unbearable levels of pain. These rapidly changing weather patterns, or what I refer to as the "yo-yo effect," many times are similar to repetitive stress injuries that are significantly reticent to improve until the erratic weather pattern changes.
I enjoy keeping my patients healthier and I am always there to help, but I prefer they stay injury-free and just return every other month or so for periodic maintenance care and semi-annual or annual orthotic updates. So now, let's discuss how to prevent and treat these pain episodes, focusing on low back pain due to a bulging disc. Knowing, understanding and listening to your body's triggers are important life lessons. During weather fluctuation conditions pay attention to your body's weak links. Mornings are especially problematic for discs in the low back. The discs, 70% water, swell like sponges during the night and many times in the morning are pressing up against the spinal cord in the low back. This is why bending forward to wash your face or putting on your shoes can be difficult and send you to the chiropractor or sometimes, even the neurosurgeon for a cortisone injection (epidural). This is when doing some easy morning press ups ("Cobra" yoga position) can decompress the low back discs. Even standing and gradually arching the low back while looking upwards will do. Another excellent yoga move for low back decompression is the "Salutation." This is basically a standing forward lunge with your arms placed over your head and is also a good hip flexor stretch. Hold for a few seconds, repeating 4-6 times with each leg.
More important than last century's outdated passive low back stretches (pulling the knees to the chest), low back disc pain is best prevented and treated in the 21st century by strengthening the deep low back muscles, glutes/hamstrings and hip flexors. Refer to my Superman, glute/hamstring and hip flexor strengthening exercises in RUNDOCRUN RECOMMENDS. I also recommend the natural anti-inflammatories white willow bark, bioflavonoids, and essential fatty acids. As always, 20-minute zip-locked crushed ice pack applications covered with one paper towel will help reduce the pain. The bulging disc(s) causing the low back pain can be minimized by limited sitting, avoiding bending forward at the waist, including standing toe touches, pulling the knees to the chest, traditional sit-ups, and the yoga position, "Downward Dog." If experiencing a bulging disc episode, extra caution when coughing and sneezing are this doctor's orders. A good "rule of thumb" is to look upwards when coughing/sneezing and do not hold a cough or sneeze in, as this increases the disc pressure; just remember to cover your mouth and nose. I treat bulging low back discs in my office with ultrasound physiotherapy, passive extension back arching maneuvers (McKenzie Protocol) and special chiropractic adjustments. I usually assess the lower extremities for any anatomical leg length difference and abnormal pronation of the feet, which many times are literally an underlying cause of the low back pain and are best correct with custom orthotics as seen in "The Orthotic Difference" Custom Orthotics.