Arthritis of the spine can cause a number of symptoms including headaches, loss of flexibility, difficulty walking, loss of bowel or bladder control, and neck or back pain. Depending on whether cervical or lumbar spinal joints and nerve roots are affected, symptoms may include weakness and pain that radiates down one or both arms or legs.
When it comes to managing back pain associated with spinal arthritis, your doctor may recommend that you not rely on traditional medical treatment alone to control your pain symptoms. In working with a pain management physician and the treatment options he or she offers, there are steps you can also take on your own to help reduce the pain and improve your overall quality of life.
1. Think Positively
If you focus on your back pain, chances are you’re going to feel worse. Pain can negatively impact your overall mood, but it doesn’t have to leave you feeling helpless. While persistent arthritis pain can leave you feeling depressed, you’ll feel better if you find ways to distract yourself from the pain.
Positive thinking also alters your perception of pain and how your brain processes it. Therefore, if you don’t expect pain to be severe, your pain may not feel as intense even when it’s bad. That same positive thinking may contribute to your pain medications being more effective as well.
According to WebMD, researchers suggest that having low expectations of pain can reduce your perception of pain by about 28 percent. That amount is as much as a shot of morphine!
2. Learn to Relax
It isn’t easy to relax when you’re in pain, but releasing muscle tension helps relieve back pain. Deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or simply listening to slow music are methods you can use to relax tense muscles, which will help ease your pain.
3. Get Up and Move
Although a physical therapist will develop an exercise program that meets your current level of functioning, physical activity of any kind can help lift your mood and decrease your pain. Exercise not only strengthens and loosens stiff, tight muscles, but it also boosts endorphins—the body’s natural feel-good hormones.
If arthritis pain in your back causes you to move less, it’s especially important to engage in movements that increase your endurance, strengthen your muscles, and improve your range of motion. However, avoid high-impact activities like running or activities that require repetitive motions that can make pain worse.
Low-impact activities such as walking, riding a stationary bike, and exercising in water are easier on you, yet they still strengthen your back and build the muscles surrounding your joints. Water exercises support the body’s weight, helping to reduce the stress on your joints as you move. It’s also a way to improve balance and range of motion—other functions on which arthritis can have a negative effect.
4. Pace Yourself
While you need to move, you don’t want to physically overdo it either. Regulating your physical activity helps you conserve energy and prevents putting too much strain on a muscle or joint.
By getting to know your body and the signals it sends, you’ll know when to slow down so that you don’t make the pain worse. You can learn the warning signs that you are nearing your limit by taking note of which of your normal daily activities bring on the most pain and discomfort. This mindfulness will help you know how much physical activity you can handle at one time before you need to give your body a rest.
5. Watch What You Eat
A diet consisting of the wrong foods, like too much sugar, increases the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases. But did you know that some foods also worsen inflammation that causes joint pain? A poor diet can also lead to extra weight, which stresses the joints and increases pain.
Therefore, it’s important to eat a diet that consists of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, beans and legumes, and fish and other healthy fats—all foods that help ease inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables have an anti-inflammatory effect. Beans and whole grains also contain compounds that help fight inflammation.
6. Quit Smoking
Smoking isn’t just bad for your lungs; it’s bad for your back and joints too. Rheumatoid arthritis can be debilitating enough without adding tobacco smoke to the picture.
The toxins in tobacco smoke put stress on your connective tissues, which can contribute to problems with joints in the spine and put you at risk of neck and back pain. To add insult to injury, smoking can interfere with the medications you take to manage your arthritis pain.
If you need help coping with neck or back pain, the medical staff of Southwest Florida Neurosurgical & Rehab Associates can offer you advice on controlling chronic back pain related to arthritis or other causes.