Why Being Less Active During the COVID-19 Quarantine Can Make Your Back Hurt

Orthopaedic & Spine Center
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Dr. Jeffrey Carlson

Jeffrey R. Carlson, MD

I think we can all agree that being confined to our homes during the COVID-19 outbreak is no fun.  We’re eating more and sitting around in our recliners or on the sofa, watching TV like there’s no tomorrow. We can’t go to the gym, we can’t socialize and we have to make sure the kids and grandkids are fed, bathed and get their schoolwork done.  If this sounds like you, you may have noticed that your back is hurting more.  You may feel some stiffness and soreness when you arise from bed in the morning and that dull ache may continue all day.  Let’s uncover the reasons why and what you can do about it.

Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, nerves and other soft tissues.  Your spine consists of 33 bones from your skull to your tail bone, the cervical (neck) region, the thoracic (ribcage) region and the lumbar (lower back) region. Most of these are separated by a cushioning disc that helps with movement. The major ligaments run down the length of your spinal column and attach bone to bone.  The tendons attach muscle to bone.

There are three major muscle groups in the back known as Superficial, Intermediate and Deep.  The superficial muscles help control the motion of the shoulder, the intermediate muscles help to control the rib cage (thoracic) area and the deep muscles help to control the movement of the bones of the spine, known as the vertebral column.  In all, eighteen muscles help to control what we commonly call the back.

Now that you have a good understanding of back anatomy, you might ask “Well, I haven’t really done anything to make my back hurt, but it still does.  Why?” The human body was designed for movement and when we don’t move, it can start a chain reaction of problems.  Muscles that don’t get used can become weak and more prone to injury, even from simple, everyday movements. Arthritis in the spine worsens when the joints aren’t in motion.  The spinal joints can then stiffen and pain can increase when you do move.  Being in pain causes you not to want to move and it becomes a vicious cycle.

Do you smoke or has your smoking increased during the crisis?  You might be surprised to know that smoking is a cause of back pain.  There are many studies that show smoking can make back pain worse because of decreased oxygenated blood flow to the spine and soft tissues which surround it.  Do your best to limit smoking or quit entirely. Your back will thank you!

Finally, get off the couch and start moving!  Exercise is one of the best things that you can do for your back pain.  Walking is free, easy and extremely effective for decreasing simple back pain.  In fact, I recommend walking for my patients, after they have had spinal surgery, to speed their recovery.  You’ll enjoy the fresh air, sunshine and seeing your neighbors, while maintaining social distancing, of course!

 

Make an appointment with Dr. Carlson or another OSC provider by clicking the “Request Appointment” button below or by calling (757) 596-1900.