Bedtime Tips for People Who Suffer from Back Pain

Photo by:  Romina Farias  on  Unsplash

Photo by: Romina Farias on Unsplash

GUEST AUTHOR: Cheryl Conklin

According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide. Back pain affects people of all ages and backgrounds. Since the back, neck, and spine all contain complex systems of bones, joints, ligaments, discs, and muscles, the causes of back pain are varied and sometimes hard to pinpoint. Back pain can be due to sprained muscles or ligaments, sports injuries, arthritis, inflammation, and psychological stress. 

Back pain can impede life in many ways, but one of the most damaging is sleep deprivation. Persistent back pain can make it difficult for people to fall asleep. Even if they manage to fall asleep, the quality of the rest can be disturbed by tossing and turning related to the discomfort. Sleep deprivation can make back pain worse, but the negative effects don’t end there. Not getting enough sleep makes it substantially more difficult to function the next day, as you are prone to experience cognitive issues including memory loss, moodiness, increased clumsiness, brain fog, reduced balance, and a weakened immune system. Furthermore, sleep deprivation raises your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. 

As with any medical problem, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your chronic pain and sleep problems. There could be a serious issue that’s causing both issues, and your physician can recommend treatments and/or therapies to alleviate this troublesome situation. However, if you’re on Medicare, it’s important to determine if therapies and treatments are covered, so check your coverage beforehand. If you’re having difficulty navigating the website, there are online guides and resources that can make finding the info you need a little easier.

How to Sleep Better with Back Pain

Take It Easy on Yourself

If you spend all day doing strenuous work, you’ll never give yourself a chance to heal. And while it’s often difficult to avoid certain tasks, you can find ways to take some of the burdens off your shoulders. For instance, instead of coming home from work and immediately diving into a full evening’s worth of cleaning, try to spread those tasks throughout the week. And if you discover that’s still a little too much for your back to bear, hiring a cleaning service to attack the problem. In East Greenwich, Rhode Island, a maid service costs around $125 and $228 per cleaning, so it’s easy to fit into your budget, even if you only take advantage of these services every so often.

Reduce Joint Inflammation 

You are what you eat. If you’re eating a bunch of salt, sugar, and saturated fat, you are likely a bloated ball of pain plagued with inflammation. Adjusting your diet is one of the best things you can do to reduce back pain. Certain whole foods can actually alleviate joint pain while supporting healthy muscle development. To alleviate back pain at night, fill your daily diet with healthy-joints foods, like cruciferous vegetables and vitamin C-packed fruits like pineapple, mango, kiwi, and oranges.

Strengthen Your Core

Your core muscles make up the bulk of your abdominals and back, and play a critical role in supporting your spine. Your core muscles likely don’t get a good workout during the day-- especially if you spend your time sitting behind a desk or wheel. Everyone needs to exercise for better sleep, but if you suffer from back pain, it’s even more important to focus on strengthening your core muscles when you work out. Include 20 to 30 minutes of core-strengthening exercises into your daily routine, and consider other ways to strengthen it throughout the day, such as switching out your desk chair for an exercise ball for 30-minute intervals during your workday. 

Switch Your Sleep Position 

If you suffer from lower back pain, certain sleep positions can help relieve the pressure put on that area of the body for less pain. 

  • Sleep on your side with a pillow placed between the knees

  • Sleep on your side with knees pulled to the chest in a fetal position

  • Sleep on your stomach with an extra pillow under the abdomen

  • Sleep on your back with a pillow wedged under the knees (you can buy one for $29.95)

  • Sleep on your back in a reclined position enabled by an adjustable bed

The sleep position that is best for you depends on what relieves the most lower back pressure. Make sure to keep proper spinal alignment when adjusting your sleep position by aligning your ears, shoulders, and hips on top of each other. When looking for pillows, choose firmness that correlates with your particular sleep position. Back sleepers benefit from thinner pillows and models with more padding at the neck. Side sleepers do best with a very firm pillow with an extra-wide gusset that creates space between the ear and shoulder. Stomach sleepers should aim to use the thinnest pillow possible or no pillow at all. 

Back pain affects millions of people and commonly contributes to sleep deprivation. Not only does a lack of sleep make back pain worse, but it also manifests in other mental and physical ailments. A healthy diet reduces inflammation for less back pain at night, while core exercises support a strong spine for less pain every day. Furthermore, the right sleep position and pillow can relieve back pressure, making it easier to fall asleep. 

Ms. Conklin created because she believes one can’t have physical health without mental health and vice versa.

The IBS Diagnosis: What Does It Really Mean?

It means that your doctor has NO idea what is wrong with you. In other words, the IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) diagnosis is a misnomer. It should be the IDK diagnosis.

And this is how the story usually goes:

You have been experiencing gas, pain and bloating for weeks, months or even years. You’ve been to your primary care doctor multiple times and have even been to see a gastroenterologist about your symptoms. Maybe you have had invasive diagnostic testing such as an endoscopy or a colonoscopy. The doctor may have even said everything looked fine. If not, you may have been told that your esophagus, stomach and/or intestines were irritated and compromised. But he or she has no explanation as to why. You may have tried probiotics, fiber supplements, antacids, and/or prescription medications. All to no avail. Your doctor is frustrated that things are not improving and has no other suggestions beyond recommending another test or medication. And maybe your doctor has even suggested that your symptoms are all in your head. Your friends are tired of hearing about the pain and discomfort you are experiencing on a daily basis and now you wonder if even THEY are thinking it’s all in your head. And then you question yourself…IS it all in my head??!!

The answer is: NO. It isn’t all in your head. The answer is in your gut. Your gut is telling you something is wrong. However, modern medicine is not designed to treat the patient from the inside out, to heal the body and fix what is at the core of the symptoms. Modern medicine is designed to diagnose and treat pharmaceutically. If you have a health problem, modern medicine tells us that there is a pill to fix it. Unfortunately, this is only making matters worse. I have many patients come into my office with this same story. They have found me on their own or have been referred by a doctor that understands their limits on being able to help their patient from the traditional approach. I am sometimes their last hope. That’s a lot of pressure. But I have to say, fortunately, the answer isn’t too complicated. The path to relieving the symptoms of IBS are fairly simple…IF you follow them. So keep reading in order to find out how to get rid of IBS symptoms for good.

Give yourself two weeks. It will take two weeks (yes, that’s it!) to navigate the course to becoming symptom free. Yes that means no more gas, pain and bloating IF you follow these steps:

  1. Cut out gluten. It sounds extreme and it pretty much is. But, if you really want relief from the symptoms that are affecting your quality of life, then it will absolutely be worth it! Gluten is found mostly in breads, pastas and baked goods. It is also found in seasonings, dressings and processed and prepared foods. Substitute with gluten free whole grains such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, or use starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash in place of pastas and breads. Look for gluten free versions of your breads and pastas if you must, but try to look for those made of whole gluten free grains such as brown rice versus white rice.

  2. Cut out dairy. This will be hard for many of you. Cheese and ice-cream lovers are cringing right now. But again, it is worth it. There are great dairy alternatives out there. Try a non-GMO dairy free creamer made from almond and/or coconut milk. Unsweetened almond, rice, cashew or hemp milk are great substitutes for cereals and the non-dairy frozen desserts just keep getting better. As for cheese, this is a tough one. There are a few out on the market made from finely ground nuts that are fairly good, but I have yet to find a good dairy and soy free cheese. There are really good non-dairy butter substitutes made from coconut oil.

  3. Cut out soy. Soy is a great dairy substitute and is a vegetable that is high in protein, however soy is also full of phytoestrogens, which means that it acts as estrogen in the body. In theory, this looks like it could be a good thing, but it isn’t. Our environment is full of so many endocrine disruptors right now (environmental pollutants, pesticides, plastics, medications, cleaning supplies, etc.) that we need to minimize the phytoestrogens we are taking in as they are becoming endocrine disruptors this day in age in America. The cleanest soy products would be organic, non-GMO soy beans or edamame. But it just goes downhill from there when we alter the soybean seed genetically, add pesticides and herbicides, and then isolate and concentrate different parts of the soy plant. This is a recipe for disaster.

  4. Stop taking probiotics. Unless you have recently been on antibiotics or had the stomach bug, stop taking probiotics. It could be making your symptoms worse. You may add them later on, but for right now, stop them.

  5. Avoid fermented foods and beverages. Vinegar, overly ripened fruits, mushrooms, Kombucha, and yes, alcohol should be avoided for now. Fermented foods and beverages could be feeding into your problem. And i literally mean “feeding”. Feeding the bacteria that are causing your symptoms by creating an imbalance in the microbiome (in other words, your gut is out of balance and you keep adding to the heavier side).

  6. Avoid raw fiber. At least for now. A big one to avoid for now is salads. Yes, they are healthy. But when your gastrointestinal tract is irritated and compromised, it is in no position to be able to digest and tolerate large amounts of raw and fibrous roughage passing through it. Down the line you can re-introduce salads, but for now…cooked vegetables are your best bet.

  7. Avoid artificial everything. Avoid artificial sweeteners, preservatives and overly processed foods. If you can get organic, do so. For “gut” sensitive people, all of the pesticides, herbicides, preservatives, food additives, artificial sweeteners, etc. will affect your gastrointestinal system. Try to eat as clean as possible.

  8. Avoid all other foods and beverages that you already knew were causing distress. Eggs, citrus fruits, green peppers, spicy foods, coffee? If you know that you don’t tolerate certain foods already, then stay away from them. Pretty simple.

Eight steps, that’s it. Try to do them all at once if you can. For two weeks. Track your food and beverages and your symptoms. You will find that they are going away. In two weeks, my hope is that the gas, pain and bloating symptoms of IBS are starting to feel like a distant memory. As you move forward, remember to continue to follow these eight steps as closely as you can. You may be able to add in some dairy or gluten in small amounts. I would suggest introducing one thing at a time and on a rotational basis of every three days so you can isolate which foods are causing distress. Continue to keep your food journal and track symptoms. And the (sad) truth is, if you happen to go on a vacation to Italy and eat their bread and pasta and drink their wine, you will probably be fine. They do not have the preservatives, food additives, pesticides and genetically modified seeds that we do here in the United States. And if you are sensitive to all of these things, then you no doubt will find that cleaning up your diet with these eight steps will definitely help (or moving to Europe).

So, here’s to your health and feeling better in the days, weeks and months to come.

12 Steps to Get Rid of Your Headaches & Migraines For Good

Do you suffer from frequent headaches (meaning more than 2-3 per week)? Do they often turn into migraines that are debilitating and make you want to pluck an eyeball out?

When you have a headache, everything hurts from your head to your toes. Life is experienced through the headache filter. Every enjoyable event is weighed down by the fact that you have a headache. All of your senses are processing positive memories in a negative light. And don’t even mention the daily tasks. They become overwhelming and sometimes too hard to complete in the midst of chronic headaches and migraines.

In my 20’s, I had a headache every day for almost 7 years. I probably had migraines 2-3 times per month. I was put on Imitrex, Zomig, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers. I popped 900mg of Advil without blinking. I took Excedrin Migraine. I had massages, took naps, drank coffee, drank more coffee, iced my head and neck, tried aromatherapy. You name it, I tried it. Things only got worse. I had an MRI…nothing. I was in pain on a daily basis and I was in my 20’s, supposed to be living the best years of my life. The headaches depressed me and stole my energy and my joy. I started to accept that this was just the way it was going to be and I would have to live with it.

During this time, I went to go visit a college friend of mine who told me about how she finally broke her own cycle of headaches and migraines. She had been to see a neurologist at John Hopkins in Maryland for her headaches and migraines. He had a different approach than most doctor’s. He treated his patients by eliminating dietary and environmental triggers and avoiding quick fix painkillers that cause rebound headaches. I tried the approach she had followed, and within 2 months, I was also headache and migraine free! I started spreading the word to my family members who also struggled with headaches and migraines and it worked for them as well! Almost twenty years later, I have brought this tried and true approach into my nutrition practice.

I have tweaked a few things with my headache/migraine patients, but here are my 12 steps to get rid of your headaches and migraines for good:

  1. Stop taking over the counter medications for your headaches. If you absolutely have to take something for a headache or migraine, I would recommend just taking a regular strength Tylenol (acetaminophen) as long as you do not have any other interactions. (Note: Always check with your doctor before starting any new over the counter medication). And definitely, do not take any of the over the counter headache relief medications that also have caffeine in them. They may relieve the pain temporarily, but will forever keep you in the headache/migraine cycle.

  2. Stop taking prescription medications for your headaches (ALWAYS talk to your doctor about stopping medications first). Many of these such as Imitrex and Zomig, or narcotics, such as Vicoden, will forever keep you in the chronic pain and rebound cycle.

  3. Get the right amount of sleep (not too much, not too little). Anywhere from 7-9 hours. And try to be as consistent as you can with the times you are going to sleep and waking up. Even on the weekends.

  4. Avoid Alcohol. Some alcoholic beverages, such as red wine and champagne, contribute to headaches more than others. However, in general, all alcohol is a trigger for headaches/migraines. A high end vodka is probably the best tolerated if you must have a drink.

  5. Avoid Caffeine. You may be able to add it back in later in smaller amounts, but you need to get off of all caffeine now. Caffeine is one of the biggest headache and migraine triggers. Right now you may be thinking that I’m misguided. That caffeine helps relieve your headaches. That is a BIG misconception as it is only a quick fix for caffeine withdrawal that perpetuates the headache/migraine cycle. Also make sure to avoid decaffeinated versions of coffee and tea which contain additional chemical triggers. Instead try herbal teas.

  6. Avoid artificial sweeteners. Aspartame (NutraSweet), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low), etc. These are found in diet sodas, diet teas, flavored beverages, sports drinks, light yogurts, health shakes, protein bars, etc. Stay away from them. Stevia (alcohol free) in the liquid form is the only one that I would say is safe to use.

  7. Avoid preservatives, such as nitrites and nitrates. Stay away from processed foods, but especially those processed meats such as hot dogs, pepperoni, sausages, bacon and other lunch meats made with nitrites. Also avoid sulfites found in preserved dried fruits and alcoholic beverages, especially wine.

  8. Avoid monosodium glutamate or MSG. MSG is often used as a seasoning in snacks, processed foods, vegetarian meat substitutes, soy protein concentrate/isolate, broths, soy sauce, etc. MSG typically will cause an almost immediate headache for those sensitive to it (which most headache and migraine sufferers are).

  9. Avoid chocolate. Chocolate is a common trigger (it’s the cocoa). White chocolate seems to be okay, but white chocolate is not even chocolate technically. The more processed chocolates (think M&M’s), tend to cause more headaches than a “cleaner” product, such as a 90% cacao dark chocolate bar.

  10. Other potential dietary triggers are dairy products, tree nuts and peanuts as well as their butters, certain fruits especially citrus fruits and bananas, fresh yeast breads, onions and soy products especially if highly processed.

  11. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. A minimum of 64 ounces of fluid per day. If you are losing fluid via sweating, exercising, make sure to up your intake even more.

  12. Do not go too long between meals and snacks. If you go longer than 4-5 waking hours between eating, your blood glucose levels may drop and this can no doubt trigger a headache or migraine. This also goes for waiting too long to eat after waking up.

Barometric pressure changes, hormone changes (pregnancy, monthly cycle), environmental exposure to chemicals and pollutants, smoking, medications, stress, eye strain as well as individual food sensitivities can all trigger headaches and migraines. Do the best you can to decrease the triggers listed above. Track your food and beverage intake along with your symptoms. Once you get to where headaches and migraines are under control and you have figured out your biggest triggers, you can slowly start to add back in some things in small amounts. However, caffeine and medications are no doubt the ones to be aware of. They slowly creep back in and the cycle can start all over again. And after being freed from the headache/migraine cycle, you don’t ever want to go down that path again. So here’s to your future being free from chronic headaches and migraines! Annnnnnnd go!

Get Rid of Your Headaches and Migraines For Good!

Get Rid of Your Headaches and Migraines For Good!

The Path to Healing: A 6-week series to help guide you on your path to health

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The path to healing is very personal. We each have our own journey in this life and it isn’t without pain or trauma. And at some point in our lives (or at multiple points), we get to the place where we can’t go on any longer in the state we are in. Whether it is physical, emotional or spiritual pain, we must face something within ourselves that needs attention. And our bodies are equipped to tell us we must pay attention or else the consequences can be devastating.

The body is a messenger. The state of our physical, emotional and spiritual health are sending us messages constantly. Sometimes they come in whispers and sometimes they come in shouts. At first we may hear a quiet message. It may come in the form of an emotion. Maybe we are feeling angry or sad or anxious. Or maybe the message presents itself in our physical body. We may have a headache or stomach ache. Sometimes these symptoms just come and they go. They aren’t significant or long lasting. They could be situational or circumstantial and not long lasting. But if something persists…if the “down” feeling persists and steals our joy for weeks or months. Or if the occasional headache turns into daily headaches or migraines, then we must pay attention. And thus begins our search and our path to healing.

I always believe that whenever we actively seek answers that we will find them. It may take longer than we had hoped for, but if we keep pressing on with our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open…eventually we will find the answers. Sometimes the answers bring immediate relief. Sometimes, we don’t like the answers and we fight them in our grief of letting go of something we have been holding onto. Even if it has been something that has been hurting us. And sometimes after we get our answers we feel overwhelmed by the steps ahead. This is the beginning of the healing process. And it may take time, but our bodies will tell us we are on the right path. That things are getting better. That we feel better. That it isn’t the easy path, but it is the only path to freedom. Stay on it and you will be rewarded. Go off course, and you will begin to feel that old familiar pain. This is designed to keep us on course. We must stay awake. We have to continue to pay attention to the messages our bodies are sending us.

I have come across many who are seeking answers in need of healing, in my practice and in my personal life. As I listen to the stories of physical or emotional pain or unrest, I always see how they are connected to our spirit. Something is amiss or unbalanced. It may be a job situation or a relationship or what we are eating or how we are taking care of ourselves. Something in our lives needs attention. We need to start working on making changes. And it is does require work. The first step is realizing and accepting this. Sometimes that is the most difficult step. And then the next step is beginning on our journey of healing. We are navigating into the unknown. But the answers will come as we are ready and do the work. This is the time to pay attention along the way, to keep our eyes, ears, minds and hearts open. You will get to the other side. Pain is often the catalyst to healing. To heal not only our physical and emotional pain, but also our spiritual pain. Then, when we are restored back to health, we will have the energy to live our life fully. To be able to do what we were meant to do in this life. My hope is that anyone who reads this, wherever you are in your journey, that you are reminded of this today. We were created to do great things in this life. We were created to live life abundantly. And I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, but I guarantee that it will definitely be worth it. Annnnd go!