Back pain can be very limiting. You’d know this is true if you’ve come back from a long day at work, from driving, from a long day on a construction site moving things around and then try to bend down to pick up your child only to be stabbed in the back by that sharp pain.
Back pain could also be dull pain that seems as though it were moving or radiating all over your back. Other times, it’s not just that you cannot shoot hoops with your friends during the weekend; it could limit work itself and make it extremely difficult to work at your desk.
Weighted blankets can help to reduce back pain and muscle soreness in your back region. They are definitely worth the investment considering the amount of relief they provide. In this article, we will take a look at how weighted blankets work and how they may be able to help you alleviate your back pain.
What is back pain?
Everyone probably has an understanding of what back-pain is because we’ve all experienced it at some point. Back pain could be a sharp pain restricted to a section of your back. It could also be dull pain that radiates over the entire back. The end effect in the two cases is, however, the same; discomfort.
Back pain has been found to be one of the major reasons why people visit hospitals routinely and also a very common reason why people miss work. To know you have back pain, you should feel this pain at your back that worsens when you try to do strenuous activities such as lifting things or bending over.
For most people with back pain, reclining to rest the back can do wonders momentarily. But not everyone has beds in the office that they can just lay on during work hours.
Many jobs require a lot of moving around and a lot of back work. It is therefore very important that you have taken the step to look for lasting solutions to back pain.
What causes back pain?
Back pain can be caused by a very wide range of factors. Some episodes of back pain are immediate results of falling or lifting heavy things. However, back pain can also be caused by more chronic problems such as arthritis, osteoporosis and muscle strain.
Back pain episodes can become more frequent as you grow older and do less exercise or eat less healthy meals or smoke. All these factors increase your chances of regularly coming down with back pain.
This, however, also gives us an idea of how we can prevent regular episodes of back pain. Healthy feeding, reduction in junk food intake, and regular exercise will help you keep fit and in shape.
Habits that prevent back pain
Quitting smoking will improve not only your cardiovascular health but also your breathing and this help you last longer doing reps of your daily exercise. Adopting a proper sitting posture is another key to preventing frequent episodes of back pain.
What are weighted blankets and how do they work?
Weighted blankets are a unique kind of blankets, created first with autistic children as the target users. They are a product of many years of interesting research which have been published in peer-reviewed publications such as the Journal of Sleep Medicine and Disorders and the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering.
Weighted blankets are increasingly being used in conditions varying from anxiety disorder to night terrors, ADHD, stress, and insomnia. As we will see soon, it is also used in back pains of muscular and non-muscular origins.
Weighted blankets are a medical device used in physical therapy. They have, over the years become an integral part of physical therapy and are now frequently prescribed by psychiatrists, physical and occupational therapists and psychologists.
What are weighted blankets made of?
Weighted blankets are like an everyday blanket except in that they are filled with plastic pellets or glass bead weights that distribute an additional weight around them and make them heavy. This weight is the basis of the grounding effect of weighted blankets that allow them to carry out their effects.
How do weighted blankets work?
Weighted blankets work via what is called Deep Pressure Touch (DPT) therapy. As we have said, weighted blankets are designed to be a bit heavy.
Weighted blankets, by their grounding or ‘squeezing’ effect (that seem like a hug), activate the deep pressure touch zones. This leads to the release of endorphins and serotonin. It also leads to the reduction of cortisol secretion.
This is important because Endorphins are the body’s natural pain reliever. Serotonin, at night, gets converted to melatonin which is responsible for restful sleep. Cortisol, which gets reduced, is the body’s stress hormone.
While weighted blankets may seem pricey, they are a good investment in the long-term. Also, they are now becoming more recognized as a medical device and are covered by insurance companies.
Management options for Back Pain
When people come down with back pain, what do they usually turn to? When back pain becomes very serious many people finally go see their physician. Doctors prescribe medication they can buy to correct the situation.
Analgesics and NSAIDs
Analgesics are a class of drug that is used primarily for pain. While less effective ones like Acetaminophen have not as much side effects, NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) have a whole range of side effects (while being more effective).
Continuous use can cause gastric ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and even worsen asthma symptoms. Thus there’s a trade-off to be made.
Since back pain, as we’ve earlier said could be very limiting (especially at the workplace), many take the pills anyway and end up coming down with severe side effects later. This is especially serious in people who also drink alcohol (another habit that could cause gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers.)
NSAIDs have been formulated into creams to bypass those internal effects. These creams can be spread across the back and used to massage the back thoroughly. Doing this is a mix between drug therapy and physical therapy.
There are more potent analgesics than NSAIDs. However, they are usually reserved for more severe pains such as pain in patients in intensive care units or in patients with cancer. They are called the opioid class of analgesics.
Most people are familiar with opioids as a very potent analgesic. They are used in the management of pain and give a pleasurable feeling and a feeling of well-being that could lead to addiction and dependence.
A well-known example is morphine. Morphine is a natural opioid. There are other opioids, synthetic ones that are more powerful than morphine.
All these are, however, intensely regulated and you can’t get your hands on them without a doctor’s prescription and other necessary documentation.
Physical therapy is usually a better alternative to addressing back pain than using medications, so we’ll look at that next.
Physical therapy for back pain
Physical therapists are healthcare professionals that help you deal with pain in different parts of your body, difficulty moving and generally help your body function better, especially after physical trauma.
Physical therapists help accident victims, amputees trying to get used to artificial limbs, mothers after childbirth and many more get back in full shape. They, however, don’t just work with major trauma.
They also lend services to stress management through physical therapy. Aside from this, physical therapists play an important part in resolving back pain and other forms of muscular pain.
Physical therapists are trained to investigate the root cause of back pain and address them appropriately.
One of the most common methods they use is manual manipulation and massage. This is a very common and effective method for getting results with back pain. Although many people get their loved ones to massage them at home, it’s hardly done thoroughly. Physical therapists are the trained practitioners in this field.
Physical therapists also advise patients on exercises they can do at home that could augment the therapy they provide. These exercises could include sit-ups, push-ups, lifting small weights and light jogging.
Physical therapists can also recommend medical devices that can help ease the back pain. One of these recommended medical devices is the weighted blanket.
Physical therapy using weighted blankets
The most important benefit of physical therapy with a weighted blanket is that the weighted blanket is always right there, beside you. You can’t take a physical therapist with you everywhere you go. However, you can always have your weighted blanket to swaddle yourself in and ease out of the pain.
Physical therapists recommend weighted blankets because their benefits are backed by research. Swaddling yourself in a weighted blanket produces a grounding effect that sensitizes your DPT zones.
By sensitizing the DPT zones, weighted blankets release endorphins. Remember how we said earlier that morphine and opioids are quite powerful painkillers.
Endorphins (a word gotten from “endo” which means internal and “-orphins” from morphine) are the body’s own opioid. They are released when we feel pain and when the appropriate receptors are sensitized. This release leads to a termination of the pain and makes you quite comfortable.
Back pain can be so severe as to prevent people from having a restful night sleep. Weighted blankets signal an end to this. Swaddling yourself in a weighted blanket when you are about to sleep does two things.
Firstly, it kills the pain through a mechanism we have seen earlier. Secondly, it promotes long and deep sleep by increasing the release of serotonin which is converted to melatonin (the hormone responsible for falling asleep) and decreasing cortisol (which has been called the wake-up hormone). This dual action makes sure sleep is long, deep and painless.
When you compare the cost of a weighted blanket to the hourly costs of hiring a physical therapist, it’s a no-brainer! Coupling weighted blanket use with a healthy lifestyle and good exercise regimen (as suggested by a licensed physical therapist) is the best way to overcome recurrent back pain. Stop by at your physical therapist’s for a monthly massage too!
Choosing the perfect weighted blanket
The most important factor to consider while choosing a weighted blanket is its weight. In fact, physical therapists recommend that your weighted blanket is about 10% of your ideal weight in order to get maximum benefit from the medical device.
Your ideal weight is not your actual weight. It is your expected weight based on your height, age, sex, and fitness level.
To calculate your ideal weight, just do a Google search for “Ideal Weight Calculators” and choose from the many options available. The weight of the blanket is extremely important. It is for this reason that most weighted blankets are custom made so that they fit your exact ideal weight. Weight is, however, not the only factor to look out for when choosing a weighted blanket.
Another important factor to look out for is the material you want your weighted blanket to be made from. This is not only from the point of view of aesthetics. It is also about your health. If, for example, you’re allergic to a particular material, it is strongly advised you go for another.
The fabric types available include cotton, Mink, polyester, rayon-cotton blend, and silk. For kids, a colorful blanket with their favorite cartoon characters is a brilliant way to endear them to their blankets.
The size of the blanket is also important. Size, in this case, does not refer to the weight. It is the length and breadth of the weighted blanket. The perfect weighted blanket must be capable of swaddling you in a sitting position and while you lie prone.
The size is usually the first to be addressed while constructing your weighted blanket. The weights are then distributed over the entire blanket. Small blankets of about 38 x 50 inches are suitable for kids. Depending on the size of the adult, you have a choice between the medium-sized blanket of around 38 x 60 inches and the large blankets of over 42 x 72 inches.
Back pain is a very limiting condition that could diminish your productivity if left to continue. It can be caused by an unhealthy lifestyle, a refusal to exercise and everyday events that put physical stress on us.
It is important to not just use painkillers and visit a physio, but also try to correct unhealthy attitudes. Painkillers are the most used treatment of back pain but, like most easy fixes, leaves many problems behind.
Physical therapy is one of the safest and most effective methods for dealing with your back pain. By using weighted blankets, you have a physical therapist that is always around you and ready to stimulate your body’s natural pain reliever!