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What Is Lumbar Support?

Many chairs, couches, mattresses and personal devices (belts) claim to have lumbar support as one of their features. But what exactly does lumbar support mean? “Lumbar” is not exactly a layman’s term and there can be a lot of confusion. If you’re looking to purchase a furniture piece with “lumbar support” as one of it’s selling points, then you should know what you’re paying for.

Lumbar refers to the part of the spine in the lower back that curves inward toward the belly or abdomen. On an average-sized person, the lumbar spine begins around five or six inches below the shoulder blades. It is connected to the thoracic spine at the top and the sacral spine on the bottom.

So when you hear people or when you yourself complain of a lower backache, it is most likely an issue with the lumbar spine. It may not necessarily the spine itself, it could be just the muscles surrounding it.

Because of its position, the lumbar part of the back is subjected to a lot of strain, but in terms of anatomy, does not offer a lot of structural support. The spine is made up of small, interconnected bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae encase and protect the spinal cord. Each vertebra is separated by an intervertebral disc, which also acts as a cushion of sorts. It prevents the vertebra from rubbing against and damaging each other. While the spine helps hold you erect and allows you to bend, it is actually a very fragile design. The discs and vertebrae are prone to injury and degeneration.

The strange thing is, you can hurt your lumbar spine while performing an activity or just from sitting on a sofa. Backaches are no respecter of weight, height, athletic ability, and even age.

This is why products that offer any sort of lumbar support are very popular across all demographics, from infants who can’t hold themselves upright quite yet to senior citizens who are experiencing some bone degeneration. (Don’t forget the middle-aged office workers who suffer from chronic backaches from sitting too long behind a desk.)

Lumbar support simply means the product is designed to alleviate or minimize the strain you would usually put on your back. It is built to offer extra support or cushioning, to hold your core in place and offer extra support, or to provide relief when it is finally time to rest your aching back.

What are the common causes of lumbar pain?

lumbar pain causes

Lumbar pain and injury are not uncommon. They can be caused by an array of activities and underlying conditions. Here are just some of them.

  • Slipped Discs
    A slipped disc or a herniated disc means the soft cartilage between the vertebrae has misaligned. This can be caused by having an incorrect form while doing some heavy lifting, or just regular wear and tear of age. Most of the pain will be concentrated on the lower back but it can radiate to the hips as well.
  • Inflammation of the Sacroiliac Joint
    The point where the spine and the pelvic bone connects endures a lot of strain and pressure as it pretty much supports your upper body. The swelling or wear and tear of the joint and cartilage can be caused by an injury, age-related conditions like arthritis, and the bodily changes experienced during pregnancy.
  • Spinal or Vertebral Fractures
    A spinal fracture is usually caused by accidents or injuries when the back takes a direct hit. This can happen because of a bad fall, extreme sports, getting hit by a vehicle. There are many ways to crack your spine. Something as innocent as slipping on a bit of water can result in a serious injury depending on how you land.
  • Muscle Strain
    Less serious but probably more common is a muscle strain. The muscles and tendons around the spine are also subject to a lot of strain and pressure. Lifting and twisting as you engage in physical activities can cause serious muscle strain.
  • Poor Posture
    Something as innocent as how you sit, stand, and carry yourself could be wreaking havoc on your back. Slouching while standing, walking, or sitting hunched behind a desk will cause undue strain on your bones and muscles. Poor posture can damage your spine in the long run.
  • Heavy Lifting
    There is a right and a wrong way to lift things. This is one of the first things those who do weight training learn. Doing it the wrong way can cause muscle strain at best and serious spinal injury at worst. Always lift from the knees.
  • Obesity
    The spine and the knees are responsible for holding the body upright. The spine absorbs the brunt of the pressure and strain from our body weight. Being overweight will add undue pressure on your spine and can lead to chronic pain.
  • Lack of Exercise
    A poorly conditioned body is no stranger to aches and pains. When you have poor muscle tone, especially in your core area, it won’t be able to offer adequate support to your spine and may cause chronic aches and pains.
  • Clinical Depression
    Believe it or not, depression and anxiety could be a cause of backaches. The back muscles are also susceptible to emotional stress and tension. Your emotional status can cause all sorts of aches and pains or make an existing condition worse.
  • Scoliosis
    Scoliosis is the curvature of the spine often diagnosed during adolescence. Depending on the severity, it may go untreated or the person may require surgery. But, depending on the degree of spinal curvature, it may also cause some pain, especially later in life.
  • Pregnancy
    The sudden weight gain that tends to happen especially in the third trimester of pregnancy will often lead to some back pain. The mother’s body is not used to the extra weight on her core and her muscles and joints will be under a lot of strain. This is especially true is she is carrying multiples or a particularly heavy baby.

How do you prevent lumbar pain?

lumbar pain prevention

Accidents that cause injuries to the back and spine are unfortunate and sometimes can’t be avoided. However, there are measures you can take and factors you can actively control to help prevent lumbar pain. These are mostly lifestyle adjustments that are easy to do but have a huge impact on your health, especially in the long run. You might not feel anything now if you are young and healthy, but you will definitely pay for your neglect once you hit a certain age. Take good care of your back! Below are just some tips on how you can do it.

  • Exercise Regularly
    The stronger your muscles are, especially your core muscles. The core muscles are the muscles in your abdomen and back and provide the support for your spine. For good muscle tone and keep your weight within a healthy range, exercise regularly with some cardio and weight training.
  • Consider a Specialize Bed Frame
    This is especially true for older people or those suffering from osteoporosis or some other degenerative disease that weakens the bones. An adjustable bed like the Yaasa Adjustable Bed Frame will go a long way in easing backaches and will prevent further strain. The bed frame can be customized to reduce pressure on your spine.
  • Replace Your Mattress
    A mattress that is too soft can sag and cause backaches. Choose a mattress that will stay firm under your weight and will give your back ample support.
  • Choose an Ergonomic Chair
    For those with desk jobs, they already spend a huge chunk of their day in a sitting position. That is unhealthy in itself but with a poorly designed chair, it can also cause pain. Choose a chair which offers lumbar support to help ease the strain even with prolonged sitting. Make sure you get up and stretch at regular intervals (optimally every 30 minutes.)
  • Back brace
    A back brace isn’t just for weightlifters. Anyone can benefit from this added support to the core. It will also help train you to have a good posture. Most back braces are made with a lightweight mesh fabric that you can wrap around your waist and discreetly wear underneath your regular clothes.
  • See a Doctor
    Don’t ever take back pain for granted, especially if it is long-lasting. Even minor injuries can get progressively worse when left untreated. Some injuries like a slipped disc are irreversible but can only be treated by surgery or physical therapy. Once you have a diagnosis, your doctor can develop a treatment plan to ease or eliminate your pain.

Do Weighted Blankets Really Have Health Benefits? Yes, Here’s How

Weighted blankets, also known as a gravity blanket, were typically used by psychiatrists and therapists for their patients. Today, however, this “magic blanket” has entered the mainstream market. There is still an ongoing debate whether they part a play in lessening one’s anxiety as well as other helping with other issues. Some health experts caution the use of a weighted blanket in children because of safety concerns.

Weighted blankets for adults and teens are not harmful according to Teresa May-Benson, who is an occupational therapist associated with the Spiral Foundation located in Newton, Massachusetts. She notes that these blankets have long been in use in sensory integration therapy which is designed to help patients with autism or those with sensory issues to help them focus more on their sensory functions. Experts say that this type of therapy can improve their emotions as well as behavior.[1] However, weighted blankets should be avoided with infants and young children due to safety concerns.

What are Weighted Blankets?

As the name suggests, weighted blankets are blankets that come with extra weight in them. If you plan on buying one, there are a few factors that you need to consider:

  • Materials. The materials used in the weighted blanket play a large part of its weight. For example, plastic pellets and glass beads are two of the most common options used for weighted blankets, but there are others like millet, rice, and lead (make sure you avoid the lead). Outside material varies as well. “Breathable cotton” is a popular choice for those who consider themselves “hot sleepers.” In fact, many people benefit from a more breathable 100% cotton blanket as long as the room is kept cool. Muslin is also a popular choice because it is considered a breathable fabric.
  • Style. Another factor that you need to take into account when it comes to weighted blankets is its style. Do you want a duvet or something more in the style of a comforter? Nowadays, many are turning to a duvet cover because they provide easy care. Lap pads are also available as are weighted vests.
  • Weight. For adults, the weight is typically 10% of the ideal body weight. The formula for children is 10% of the correct body weight and 1-2 pounds.[2] However, you should always check with your pediatrician before introducing a heavy blanket to your child due to the risk of smothering or suffocation.

How Weighted Blankets Work

A good night’s sleep may become elusive at times. Stress and anxiety may cause you to toss and turn at night. You may have tried meditation apps, sleep medicine, and white noise devices to no avail. Is it possible that weighted blankets can really help you sleep at night?

Weighted blankets can increase melatonin production via sensory stimulation. The increased melatonin production then increases serotonin levels in the brain.[3]

Weighted blankets tend to weigh between 10 pounds to 25 pounds and are usually filled with poly pellets for an even distribution as you lie in bed. The idea behind weighted blankets for adults or teens is to recreate the weight of someone holding you while you sleep. Research has shown that weighted blankets been found to help alleviate anxiety thus making it easier for them to fall asleep.[4]

Can They Help with Insomnia?

Insomnia

More and more insomnia sufferers are turning to weighted blankets to help them sleep better at night. These blankets are usually filled with balls, chains, and pellets which give the blankets heft. Based on a study published in the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders in 2015, 31 adults who were diagnosed with chronic insomnia were monitored for a week using their own blankets, two weeks with weighted blankets, and another week with their usual blankets. According to the results, 4 out of 5 patients preferred to sleep with a weighted blanket because they were able to sleep longer with little to no occurrences of waking up in the middle of the night.[5]

It is believed that deep pressure stimulation may help in part as it provides patients with that reassuring and cocooning effect. The weighted beads that are incorporated into the blanket create a tactile sensation equivalent to that of being caressed. This can help reduce the feeling of anxiety in users while promoting sleep and relaxation. Serotonin and melatonin levels are increased.[6]

Benefits of Weighted Blankets

Benefits of Weighted Blanket

When it comes to weighted blankets for adults or teens, it would be a good idea to be aware of their many benefits.

  1. It’s similar to getting a huge hug. The weight of the blanket is similar to the feeling of being embraced while in bed. The slight pressure around your body gives you that comforting feeling, enough to make falling asleep easier on your part.
  2. It helps you stay asleep at night. If you want to have a restful sleep, investing in weighted blankets may be the solution. For those that wake up due to stress and anxiety, a weighted blanket may improve sleep significantly.
  3. It makes you fall asleep faster. What other benefits do weighted blankets for adults? The effects of weighted blankets are somewhat similar to swaddling a newborn. The deep pressure stimulation creates a calming effect that it promotes relaxation and sleeping on your part.
  4. It is useful for anxiety and stress. Weighted blankets are designed to help patients feel calm and relaxed during bouts of stress and anxiety. Having this blanket around can help you have a restful sleep at night.
  5. Creates a focus for ADHD. Patients who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have difficulty focusing and sleeping regardless of whether they are adults or kids. Some patients who have this disorder may have trouble focusing, while others tend to be restless and impulsive. Adults, as well as children with autism, have found that their sleep quality improved significantly with the help of weighted blankets because of the deep touch pressure stimulation. Weighted blankets can also provide the sensory input required for those who have a processing disorder.
  6. Alleviates restless leg syndrome. Those who were diagnosed with restless leg syndrome often describe the sensation as a creepy spider crawling up and down their legs. Since the symptoms of RLS often appear at night, your sleep can be disrupted. Some patients found that adding weight to their legs helped them a lot.
  7. Improves mood. There are days when you feel happy, and then there are days when you may feel out of sorts. Sometimes you may be irritable due to hormones. If your serotonin levels are low, it may out-of-sorts. The good news is that the weight of these blankets has been found to help in boosting serotonin and melatonin levels which means that not only will you feel better about yourself, but it will be easier for you to sleep better at night as well.
  8. Alleviate symptoms of PTSD. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is typically linked to veterans, but this can be said too in individuals who experienced a stressful or even traumatic event. The problem with patients with PTSD is that they experience sleep problems because of their triggers. Using weighted blankets for adults reduces blood pressure as well as pulse rates, so you’ll be able to sleep better at night.
  9. Enhances sleep quality. Just because you weren’t able to sleep well last night it does not automatically mean that you have insomnia. Fatigue may be one of the causes of your restless sleep which in turn can sap you of your energy the following day. Even if you got the suggested number of hours of sleep, it doesn’t mean that you will automatically feel rested and energized. The quality of your sleep is important too, which is where using a weighted blanket comes in. The added weight gives you that comforting feeling that will allow you to sleep better at night.
  10. Aids the elderly. As we get on in years, our sleep-wake cycle changes to the point that we barely get 8 hours of sleep at night. In some elderly, this lack of sleep has led them to have insomnia which can affect their overall wellness. That being said, the use of weighted blankets have significantly improved the quality of their sleep, and the number of hours they get to sleep at night.[7]

As you can see, weighted blankets appear to have several benefits that it can boast of which is why it is not surprising that many are turning to this product to help them sleep well at night.

Resources

  1. https://www.livescience.com/59315-weighted-blankets-faq.html
  2. https://www.mosaicweightedblankets.com/blog/weighted-blankets-what-is-better-cotton-or-polyester-minky-fabric/
  3. https://www.rocabi.com/blogs/news/the-effect-of-brian-chemicals-on-sleep
  4. https://harkla.co/blogs/special-needs/weighted-blanket-benefits
  5. https://www.jscimedcentral.com/SleepMedicine/sleepmedicine-2-1022.pdf
  6. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/minding-the-body/201808/do-weighted-blankets-really-ease-sleeplessness
  7. https://www.sensacalm.com/blogs/news/benefits-of-weighted-blanket-therapy

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