What is Spinal Decompression?

Spinal decompression is a non-surgical procedure that is used in certain cases when a patient is experiencing pain, stiffness, or numbness that can be connected to a specific origin in the neck or back. Dr. Solomon Kamson MD, PhD notes that with any back problem, it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis in order to understand your treatment options. If you are curious about spinal decompression, here’s an overview of some of the basics.

What Can Spinal Decompression Treat?
Spinal decompression can be used to treat many sources of back pain, but it is not suitable for all problems. Generally, more conservative treatments are used before performing even a completely nonsurgical spinal decompression. Back pain that stems from a tumor, fracture, or osteoporosis, is not treatable with spinal decompression. It is important that your physician knows about your medical history and any medication you may be on, as some conditions may mean that you are not a good candidate for spinal decompression.

What Happens in a Spinal Decompression Procedure?
For the actual decompression procedure itself, the patient is strapped into a harness while lying on a bed. The harness, which is attached to the lower part of the table, can move about, allowing the doctor to perform stretches and rotations in order to decompress the spine. The procedure takes anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, and is performed entirely by the doctor through a computer that allows him or her to maneuver the lower end of the table. If compression is being caused by damaged tissue or bone growths (osteophytes), these may need to be surgically removed in order to relieve the pressure on the spine.

In some cases, additional therapeutic treatments are used before or after the procedure. These might include heat and cold therapy, ultrasound therapy, or electrical stimulation. The determination for whether or not you will need one of these other therapies depends on the degree to which your physician thinks that the spinal decompression procedure will provide you with pain relief.

Decompression is also used in some cases as a complement to other kinds of minimally invasive spine surgery. The results that can be obtained from spinal decompression are unique to each patient, so it’s important to work with a physician whom you trust when it comes to treating your back pain.

Sweating the Small Stuff to Ease Back Pain

If you experience regular back pain, you are probably already doing as many things as you can to keep the pain under control. But management of back pain can be extremely frustrating, and you may feel like no matter what you do you just can’t find relief. Even if you exercise regularly, a job that forces you to be sedentary could be the culprit behind your persistent pain. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest causes of health problems in the United States, even for people who are otherwise active.

You can’t leave your job, so what are you supposed to do? Dr. Sol Kamson, a specialist in managing and treating spinal pain, suggests that patients do everything they can to make sure that they are addressing all of the little aggravations that the average office space can cause for the spine. Here are some of the issues that an office job can cause for your back, and ways that sweating this “small stuff” can help make a difference to your pain:

  • Make sure your feet can touch the ground. If your seat can’t be adjusted low enough for your feet to reach the floor, get something that you can use as a footrest like a stool, box, or stack of books. Just make sure you don’t use something that someone else in the office might need! If there’s not a good solution, it may be time to upgrade to a new chair.
  • Alternatively, if you think you might be sitting too low, adjust your chair upwards so that your knees are at an approximately ninety-degree angle. If your seat that can’t be elevated to accommodate this position, again, it may be worth it to ask your office manager for a new chair.
  • Raise or lower your desk as appropriate to the level of your chair. You shouldn’t feel like you are reaching for your keyboard or crouching over your screen. You should be able to sit comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor and your screen at eye level, for proper ergonomics.
  • Adjust your armrests. Even if you don’t use the armrests regularly, you may be positioning your body in an awkward way in order to accommodate them. Raise or lower them so that your elbows rest on the armrests. If you don’t use the armrests, remove them if possible, so you don’t end up leaning or contorting to avoid them.
  • A modern option that can help is a desk that converts between a sitting and a standing desk. This allows you to stand up and continue working if you don’t have time to take a short walk or stretch. If you can’t get a standing desk, there are other options. It may be possible to elevate your computer as you feel the urge to stand up.

Dr. Kamson recommends that patients take steps like these in order to make their daily life at the office more comfortable. Regular, daily pain that results from a sedentary lifestyle impacts not only your comfort at work, but also your quality of life more broadly. If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, preventative measures like these can help to alleviate the problem before it grows bigger.

Why Does Everyone Keep Telling You to Try Yoga?

Yoga is one of those trendy sports that it seems like everyone is trying and, of course, recommending to you. But if you’re the type to avoid trends or at least to approach them with a cautious skepticism, you may have ignored these recommendations or felt unsure about how true their claims were.

If you’ve been experiencing minor levels of back pain, Dr. Sol Kamson, a doctor of spinal health, says that you may have good reason to listen to your friends who recommend yoga. While yoga is not a good substitute for cardiovascular exercise or weight training, it can be highly therapeutic for people who have specifically been dealing with pain in the back, neck, and shoulders. What are the specific benefits of yoga for people with back pain? And what can you do to take the best advantage of these benefits?

The Benefits of Yoga for Back Pain
When you learn to practice yoga, you are really learning how to stretch your muscles. If you are able to get to a more complicated level of yoga, you will also be able to work on some muscle strengthening. For most people, it’s beneficial to do actual weight training in addition to yoga rather than to count on yoga for strength.

Stretching is a great way to relieve pain in the back. When you feel pain in your muscles, it is likely either from overworking them or from underworking them. Both can cause the accumulation of stress in the muscles. When you stretch those muscles out, you help to relieve some of that stress. After an extended period of learning and practicing yoga, you can start to maintain a consistent level of flexibility in your muscles, which will decrease your likelihood of future pain.

How to Take Advantage of the Benefits
In order to take advantage of the potential benefits of yoga, you need to make sure you are practicing it in a way that specifically targets the muscle groups that are causing you trouble. Dr. Kamson reminds patients that they should be sure to visit a doctor before trying out yoga to make sure that they are healthy enough for exercise and to make sure that there is not an underlying condition behind your back pain that could be worsened by exercise (as in the case of certain types of injuries). It’s important to find a yoga teacher who has experience working with people suffering from back pain and who understands your physical limitations.

To really get the full benefit of yoga, you will want to make sure that you don’t limit yourself to only working on those muscle groups that are directly causing you pain. Sometimes it can be difficult to target the specific location of a pain, which may mean you will need to exercise multiple muscle groups to actually get at the source. It’s also important not to push yourself too far, too fast. Gentle yoga is often best for people who are suffering from chronic pain.

Why Do Your Neck and Back Crack?

When a joint is hurting, you might be inclined to frequent joint cracking. When the back, neck, or other jointed areas are causing for pain, and the experience of cracking these joints can provide a feeling of relief, even if it is only temporary. Many people worry about the safety of cracking their joints. The short answer is, no, don’t risk it. The long answer is, yes, within reasonable limits it’s okay to crack your joints.

First, some basic points. What is actually happening when you crack your neck or back? When you manipulate your spine by rolling your head around, twisting or arching your back, or having it manually manipulated by another person, the relief you are experiencing comes from stretching out the muscles that support your spine. The cracking noise you hear, while related to the manipulation, is not responsible for the pain relief. It is simply the sound of the fluids or gases between your spinal joints being put under pressure. While stretching can be beneficial for people experiencing back pain, it’s not necessarily true that actually cracking your back can relieve pain.

Why do some people believe that it can be harmful to crack your spine? There are two major reasons behind this concern. The first is that there is a rare but very real risk of causing damage, because your spine is a central connector for a vast network of muscles, veins, ligaments, tendons, and nerves. These are all interconnected, and any damage to one part that you accidentally cause through spinal manipulation can have serious consequences.

The other concern is that you can ultimately put a lot of strain on your muscles and bones through frequent manipulation. While this is a lesser risk for younger people with stronger bones and muscles, for older people, it’s much easier to accidentally cause a serious injury. This can be brought on by some action that may feel relatively minor at the time, especially if it is a sudden and jerking motion. Even for younger people, frequent manipulation can lead to long-term wear on the muscles, ultimately decreasing flexibility and elasticity.

What does this mean for you if you have gotten accustomed to finding some pain relief through cracking your neck or back? The main thing to takeaway from this is that there is no actual connection between cracking your joints and feeling pain relief. The pain relief is actually coming from the experience of stretching the muscles. Many doctors who caution against cracking one’s own back note that you can get the same type and degree of pain relief from regular exercise and flexibility training (for example, gentle yoga).

Dr. Kamson would also like to remind patients who are experiencing back pain that it isn’t a good idea to try to take your pain management into your own hands, especially if you aren’t sure about the source of the pain or the potential complications of the methods you are using to try to fix the pain. It’s important to make sure you aren’t causing more damage than good, and that you aren’t ignoring a treatable underlying issue.

Texting Neck: A Modern Medical Malady

Smart phones have become a staple of modern life. Also on the rise? Complaints of medical problems linked to habitual cell phone use, according to an article in Mother Nature Network. While some people may deal with problems including vision impairment and accidents caused by distraction, the most common medical complaints doctors are likely to see are pain issues resulting from unnatural positions and postures. Constantly bending your neck or tucking your chin to look down at your phone, it seems, can produce back and neck pain that can be become chronic.
woman-phone-texting
While it may be difficult for patients to isolate the behaviors that are contributing to their pain issues, once you’ve talked to a doctor about your behaviors, it can become easier to figure out the connecting pieces. That said, patients who are using mobile devices on a regular basis are often reluctant to change their habits, even when they discover that poor posture and repeated stress are contributing to their pain. If you are experiencing pains in your back, neck, fingers, or elbows, keep track of how much time you spend with a smartphone or tablet—you might be surprised. Though you’re unlikely to ditch that iPhone, there are ways you can alter your behaviors to decrease your pain.

• If you are experiencing pain or tenseness in your neck (either in the spine or the muscles surrounding the spine) pay attention to how many times you catch yourself looking down at a screen. If you realize that you are looking down at screens very often or that you are craning your neck in awkward positions, make a regular habit of changing your posture as soon as you notice and take regular breaks from your devices. If you are looking down at a computer screen for long hours at work, adjust your screen so that you are able to spend more of your time looking straight ahead instead of down. Actually using a smartphone as a phone? Use a headset, and avoid looking down at your phone while you talk. Take regular breaks throughout your day to gently stretch your neck. Lift and lower your shoulders, and rotate your neck in gentle circles, to help elongate the muscles that are tense and sore.

• If you are experiencing back problems, pay attention to see if you are regularly slouching while using handheld devices or sitting at a computer. Make a practice of sitting up straight while using your devices. One solution: Sit at a table, so you can keep your device propped up instead of hunching over to reach it. Take regular breaks to stretch out your back and move around.

• If you are experiencing foggy vision after looking at screens all day, it’s very important that you take more breaks from your devices. Find out if you are wearing the right prescription glasses or contact lenses to avoid further strain. You should also experiment with your monitor’s display settings to see if there are options that are easier on your eyes.

• If you are experiencing pain in your elbows or wrists, you may be spending too many hours holding your phone up to your ear or with your wrists bent at your keyboard. Consider using alternative solutions like a headset when talking on the phone, and an angled keyboard with a wrist support when typing.

Though it’s unlikely that just one of these issues—or any one technology—is entirely to blame for chronic neck or back pain, it is possible that this kind of behavioral issue can contribute to the problem. If you are experiencing chronic back or neck pain, contact Solomon Kamson at the Spine Institute Northwest to set up a consultation.

Eating to Support Back Health

You’ve probably heard it every time you make a new commitment to get healthier: You can’t do it with exercise alone! You need to change your diet! In truth, when it comes to just about any health concern, diet can play an extremely important role in your long-term prognosis. According to Dr. Solomon Kamson, maintaining a lifelong pattern of good nutrition can put you in a better position to defend against lots of medical problems. Of course, if you are eating well you won’t be as likely to deal with health complications stemming from obesity, but even beyond that, by maintaining a good nutritive balance in your diet, you are promoting optimal bone and organ health, which will improve your normal body function and help you recover from injury more easily. In addition, many common foods contain natural properties that can help you deal with the symptoms of many medical problems.

Eating Right for Back Health
The first step towards maintaining a healthy lifestyle is to choose foods that promote bone and organ health. When specifically eating for back health, consider the benefits of the following:
• Vitamin A: Promotes the formation of healthy tissue in the back and can help speed up recovery times following any back injuries.
• Vitamin B12: Promotes healthy bone marrow.
• Vitamin C: Promotes healthy collagen, which is necessary for healing injuries in disks and elsewhere.
• Calcium, Vitamin D, and Vitamin K: The favorite nutritive element of the dairy industry, calcium promotes bone growth and on-going bone health. It’s especially necessary that people dealing with osteoporosis and other bone health problems be sure to get plenty of calcium in their diets. Meanwhile, Vitamin D and Vitamin K are important for aiding in the absorption of calcium.
• Iron: Supports the healthy functionality of cells in your entire body.
• Magnesium: Promotes muscle heath and bone density.

Avoid Eating Too Much of Anything
Not only should you avoid eating too much of unhealthy foods like saturated fats and sugars, you should also be sure to avoid overloading on any of these vitamins and minerals. Despite all of the good benefits each can have on your spine health, they can also have deleterious effects when consumed to excess. For example, too much Vitamin A can actually contribute to brittle bones, while too much calcium can cause heart and artery problems.

Back Health Super Foods
When you are eating for back health, there are a few “super foods” that nutritionists recommend to help with back problems and their symptoms:
• Pineapple and dark berries: These fruits contain anti-inflammatory enzymes that can help ease pain that results from swelling and inflammation in the back and neck. But be sure to buy fresh, as you may not get the same positive effects from canned fruit.
• Salmon, herring, or sardines: These oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote blood flow. This can be especially beneficial in the transport of oxygen through the disks of the spine, which can help ease pain symptoms.
• Beef: Though it should be consumed in moderation to prevent eating too much fat, beef is a great source of iron and Vitamin B12, both of which are very important for healthy bones in the spine.

5 Myths About Back Pain (and the Truths Behind Them!)

When pursuing treatment for a long-term back problem, it’s important to be able to distinguish helpful truths from plain old myths. Following myths can exacerbate problems and cause people to forego important treatments. Here are some regular myths that Dr. Solomon Kamson encounters in discussing treatment options with individuals.

Myth: Untreated back pain will cause long-term problems
Truth: Back pain is a symptom, not a cause, of a back issue. When you visit the Spine Institute Northwest, Dr. Kamson will be looking for the cause of your back pain before he recommends ways to alleviate it. Treating only the back pain does not prevent the underlying issue from developing. If you are experiencing mysterious back pain, it’s important to get it checked out so that underlying problems can be evaluated and treated if necessary.

Myth: Most back problems require surgery
Truth: Doctors prefer not to have to perform surgeries when they are unnecessary. Unless your symptoms point to a serious underlying problem, you will most likely have conservative treatment options. If however you have already exhausted these options, or if your problem is the result of an acute injury rather than wear-and-tear, surgery may be your best option. Minimally invasive spine surgeries offer smaller incisions and shorter recovery times than traditional back procedures.

Myth: Stretching and exercise always reduce back pain
Truth: Stretching and exercise are a great way to prevent back pain, but in situations where back pain is resulting from an underlying medical issue, you can exacerbate the problem if you try to treat it entirely with stretches and exercise. Before you try to treat your back pain entirely with stretching or exercise, be sure to consult with a doctor to determine if that is the appropriate course of action. A qualified physical therapist can also help ensure that you are doing the proper movements with the correct form.

Myth: Massages, heat application, and NSAIDs are always a good idea
Truth: You need to exercise caution even while using these conservative therapies. Heat can actually increase inflammation if the pain is the result of injury. In the case of injury, go with icing. In the case of chronic pain, go with heat. Massages are a great short-term cure for muscle pain but don’t address underlying issues. Finally, NSAIDs can be useful in certain circumstances but in cases of certain injuries, they can actually slow down healing.

Myth: Bed rest is the best thing for back pain
Truth: In many cases people who have experienced back injuries or back pain as a result of other issues will over-protect their back. Restricting your back movements or abstaining to too great a degree from physical activity can cause your back to become weaker and/or to heal in an incorrect position or with improper weight distribution. You can also put too much strain on other parts of your body when you are trying to self-correct too much for back pain, which can make other body parts more susceptible to strain or injury. For most issues, limiting rest to no more than 2 consecutive days is best. Moving around and keeping your core muscles strong, so they can support your back, is more helpful than rest.

Instead of listening to old wives’ tales, make an appointment with Dr. Kamson if you have any questions about separating fact from fiction. It can be difficult to get a full understanding of how these myths and facts apply to your situation without consultation from a professional, so make sure you are treating your medical problems based on science, not science fiction.

Lifestyle Changes That Can Support Your Back Health

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure — especially if preventative steps don’t cost you a thing. Maintaining the health of the back and spine is something that most people don’t think to do until it’s too late, and anyone with chronic back pain can tell you that it is absolutely miserable. Those who have intense pain or numbness that won’t go away should consult a back specialist such as Spine Institute Northwest founder Dr. Solomon Kamson. If your back is healthy — at least for now — here are some easy ways to maintain it:

Try out some yoga that focuses specifically on stretching and lengthening your back. You don’t have to be a master yogi to do these — in fact, many poses are simple enough that you can do them anywhere. Here’s a sequence that helps elongate the spine and gives your shoulders a terrific stretch: Stand up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Keep your eyes fixed on something on the opposite wall so that your neck and head stay straight. Extend your arms directly out in front of you, then lift them straight up above your head, and lower them in a slow fanning motion, bring them down to your sides. Next, lift your right arm and bend it behind your head so that you are touching the top of your back. Bend your left arm behind your back and try to get your fingertips to meet on your back. Reverse arm positions and repeat.

Get some cardio into your regular routine. Even just going for a twenty-minute walk at the end of the day can make a huge difference in your overall wellness. Other options: Take the stairs, park far away from your destination, and incorporate squats and lunges into your everyday chores like loading the dishwasher or folding laundry. It’s amazing the number of spots where you can squeeze in some exercise — and once you’ve improved your overall cardiovascular health with these little bits of exercise, you’re more likely to be willing to hit the gym.

If you experience temporary back pain, you can apply heat or cold, pop an over-the-counter pain reliever, or rest a little (no more than two days, absolute maximum). Back pain that does not resolve within days and/or respond to these modest treatments needs to be checked out and diagnosed. Accurately identifying the source of your pain — whether it’s an acute injury or the build-up of a long-term condition — and finding its source are vital to getting back your health. If you or someone you know is having this kind of issue, call the Spine Institute Northwest to learn more about the solutions that are available from Dr. Kamson and his colleagues.

Warning Signs of Ankylosing Spondylitis

With approximately 8 out of 10 people complaining of back pain at some point in their lives, it can be difficult to determine whether your problem is just a sore back, or the result of an underlying condition. One underlying condition that may begin as simple back tenderness and stiffness is ankylosing spondylitis. However, there are several key warning signs that you can look for to determine whether you just have a sore back, or need a visit to a back specialist such as Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest.

Ankylosing spondylitis is one that gets progressively worse with time. While you may find that pain medications and exercise temporarily relieve some of the pain associated with ankylosing spondylitis, the condition will get worse over the course of time. In most cases, the pain begins in the lower back and works its way up the spine. This can cause fusing of the vertebrae, forward curvature of the spine, and, eventually kyphosis (“humpbacking” of the spine).

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Pain that Does Not Improve with Rest
If your sore back is really just a sore back, it is likely that it will improve with a bit of rest. This is especially true for younger individuals that experience back pain or stiffness. In addition to having pain that does not improve with rest, a patient experiencing symptoms as a result of ankylosing spondylitis will notice that their pain does improve with exercise. This is the opposite of what would be expected of lower back soreness, as soreness would get worse with exercise, not better.

It’s in Your Family History
Patients with a history of ankylosing spondylitis in the family are more likely to develop the disease than those without. The reason for this is that most individuals (not all) who develop the disease have a genetic marker that makes them more susceptible. Family history is not only limited to relatives with ankylosing spondylitis. A family history of inflammatory bowel disease-related arthritis and psoriatic arthritis also can be indicative of genes that leave you susceptible to the development of ankylosing spondylitis.

Unexplainable Pain in Areas Other than the Spine
Some of the symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis include pain and stiffness in the heel of the foot, the joints of the wrists, the joints of the ankles, and other various joints in the body. Even your rib bones may be affected, causing tightness in the chest and difficult breathing. These are warning signs that can be indicative of ankylosing spondylitis. Some additional symptoms to watch out for include physical deformity, unexplainable fatigue, inflamed tendons, sleep disturbances, redness or inflammation of the eye, sensitivity to light, and blurred vision.

NSAIDS Relieve Symptoms
Those suffering from ankylosing spondylitis may turn to anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxyn. While these drugs may temporarily relieve your pain, they will not reverse the condition. Once you have been diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, however, your doctor will likely prescribe advanced medications that target the cytokines in the body. Cytokines are key components of inflammation in the body. Often, these medications will target either tumor necrosis factor alpha or interleukin 10, which will slow the progression of the disease.

Image: Blausen.com staff. “Blausen gallery 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine. DOI:10.15347/wjm/2014.010. ISSN 20018762. (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Daily Steps to Relieve Back Pain

Chronic back pain can really complicate your life. From limiting the amount of work you can do to cutting into your favorite activities, living with chronic pain is hard. While it may seem that you already have a lot on your plate, there are small steps that you can take to improve back pain in your daily life.

Support Your Spine While You Sit
Many jobs require a lot of sitting, especially if you work in an office setting. Regardless of the reason you spend most of your day sitting, your position and amount of support can make back pain better or worse. The key to alleviating back pain while sitting is proper posture and good support. Make sure that your chair is at the right height for your knees to bend at a 90-degree angle as you sit. Keep your buttocks and spine against the back of the chair.

If your seat does not support the curvature of your lower back, place a pillow or blanket between your lower spine and the chair. You can also place a pillow beneath your feet, because sitting with your knees slightly above your hips will alleviate pressure on the back. Be sure to avoid sitting on your phone or wallet, which can misalign the spine. Finally, keep your chin back as you sit, to avoid a slouching position.

office-work

Drive Comfortably
Individuals with a lot of back pain should try to avoid driving as much as possible. Try carpooling to work, walking (if it is a reasonable distance and your doctor says it’s okay), or taking public transportation.

If you must drive, consider placing a pillow behind your lower back to support the natural curvature of the spine. If you are driving long distances, take periodic breaks to get out of the car and stretch the spine. You can do this by walking around a little bit, or even completing a few stretching exercises. For stretching exercises that can benefit the lower back, consult with a back specialist such as Dr. Solomon Kamson of the Spine Institute Northwest.

Move Around
Even if your back is healthy, sitting or standing in the same position for a long period of time can become uncomfortable. This is true even for individuals with the best posture. To promote a healthy back, moving around throughout the day is important. It’s easy to sneak in movement throughout your day.

If you are talking on the phone, try standing with one foot slightly elevated. Be sure that you do not lock your knees. You should also try to regularly get up and stretch, or walk around if you are sitting in one position for a long time. Additionally, you should frequently switch positions while you are sitting. Another thing you can do is complete hamstring stretches twice daily. Hamstring stretches will make the hamstring more flexible. This allows them to absorb more of the impact as you go throughout your day and relieve some of the stress that is placed on the lower back.