Sitting at a desk or in a car puts you into a position we call hip flexion. This is not a problem for short durations of time, but if you are doing this for multiple hours a day, multiple days a week, this can turn into a big issue. Long consistent periods of sitting are actually a slow and serious trauma. A few important things start to change with our bodies over time as a result of this. The first is that our connective tissue and fascia begin to remodel and contract into the positions we are in the most throughout the day. Basically, our body adapts to a seated posture rather than a healthy upright standing posture. This is why over the years, it gets harder and harder to stand up without having to stretch yourself open after sitting.
The second thing that happens is that the muscles that help you stand upright weaken. Your hip flexor muscles tighten up and continue to get tighter with every seated hour. The opposing muscles to this that help you stand up are your glutes. They will shut off. You spend too much time seated, so your brain says, “we don’t need our glutes for that. We might as well just power them down.” In tandem with this, some of the muscles attached to your lumbar spine (lower back) will atrophy and weaken. The weakness in those muscles will not only cause abnormal wear and tear in your spine, but it will cause instability. Some of those small muscles in your lumbar spine help keep the discs in place.
When your spine is unstable, the vertebrae above and below the disc are prone to more movement than is optimal. This can cause more of a shearing motion to occur, which can damage the outer disc. With every movement, there is more compounding damage; eventually, the disc can herniate. Even worse, since your glutes are weak, you will have some pelvic instability. Your pelvis sits right below your spine, so you will also experience shearing of the disc that sits between those two structures. It is a recipe for disaster.
Repetitive Motion and Stress
Repetitive movements are basically little micro traumas that add up over time. If we make the same motion over and over and over again, our tissue will wear down. Work is the most common place to endure wear and tear from repetitive movements. Hard labor jobs like roofing, mechanics, custodians, nurses, etc., can involve a lot of flexion and rotation in the lumbar spine. Our lumbar spine is not meant to move in those ways. Those are the exact movements that can create those micro-traumas in your spine and discs. Each compounding trauma will whittle the disc down until it tears. Then we end up with a herniation. You take painkillers and push through it, and eventually, you end up with a disc bulge. Your work and how you move at work can come at a serious cost. How you move can cause a disc injury or set you up for it.
For some, lifting heavy objects is a regular occurrence; for others, it’s rare. Regardless of where you are on that spectrum, the risk of injuring your disc is very high if you are not careful. One of the most common activities that involve heavy lifting is weight training.
Weight training has a plethora of health benefits that come with it. However, not without a cost. Any exercise that loads the spine has the potential to wear down the discs and eventually cause a disc injury. Exercises like squats, deadlifts, lunges, etc., are the most common culprits. The more weight you lift, the more it will compress the discs. In addition, poor form can expedite your route to injury. You can herniate a disc on your first go at an exercise with poor form.
Less common heavy lifting activities are moving heavy furniture or appliances around unless it’s your occupation. If this is not something you do for work, the chances of you screwing up the form are extremely high. Objects come in different shapes and sizes, and finding a good grip can sometimes be challenging. Movers have all sorts of ergonomically sound tools at their disposal to help them keep from injury themselves, but the average individual doesn’t. The same concepts apply here. You will increase the load on the spine, wear down the outer cartilage, and potentially herniate the jelly inside. We recommend avoiding this risk whenever possible and hiring professionals to do the job for you. The cost of the injury compared to hiring movers is priceless.
Just like we have discs in our lumbar spine that can get injured, we also have discs in our cervical spine – aka our neck – that can herniate. Cervical disc issues are likely from whiplash rather than a compressive load.
Whiplash most commonly occurs during an auto accident. On top of our neck sits our head which is basically a 10lb bowling ball. When that bowling ball whips back and forth, it puts tremendous shearing stress on our neck and cervical spine. That shearing stress can damage all sorts of tissues, including your discs which can tear and herniate. A cervical disc injury can result in pain, numbness, tingling, weakness, etc., in your neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.
Getting the appropriate evaluation and treatment with these early on can make a difference in your recovery. Our clinic has managed hundreds of auto accident injuries. Those who are good candidates for our auto accident treatment options have a high success rate of returning to pre-injury status. We will also work with your auto insurance and attorneys to make sure the process is smooth and stress-free for you.
Degenerative Disc Disease vs. Slipped Disc
Disc injuries can come in many shapes and sizes. Two of the more common types are degenerative disc disease and slipped disc. A slipped disc is another term for a herniated disc. It is typically caused by an acute injury where a specific activity or trauma causes the disc to herniate (slip) out.
Degenerative disc disease is something that occurs over a long period of time. Your discs will dry out, shrink, and get brittle as you age. As they shrink, the jelly donuts (discs) flatten like a pancake. They turn into disc bulges. Those bulges can obstruct the space where your nerves and spinal cord live. You can end up with a number of different nerve symptoms, like numbness, tingling, burning, and pain as a result. Slipped or herniated discs have the potential to heal if you get proper intervention early on. However, degenerative disc disease is a different story. These are more permanent changes that are going to require long-term maintenance.