As a healthcare professional, it’s likely that you’ve spent some time talking to patients about how to overcome habits that may be inhibiting their quality of life.
For instance, maybe they’ve revealed how they’ve been trying to quit smoking, so, in turn, you’ve shared methods that have been known to work for others. Or perhaps their habit revolved around drug or alcohol use, prompting you to connect them with area resources that can help. In short, you offered treatment options that you knew could potentially help because you care about the total health and welfare of your patients.
The same is true when it comes to their bad habits that could potentially lead to spinal issues later in life. If you know that they’re doing something today that could potential cause them harm tomorrow, it’s better to address it now, before it becomes an issue. This means paying attention to or asking about some key areas of their life.
This is probably the easiest habit to address with patients because you can visually see whether or not they stand and walk in a way that is beneficial or harmful in nature. No need for them to bring it up or to delve into their personal life because the proof is right before you.
When addressing posture, it helps to start out with, “I noticed that you…” and then share what you’re seeing, whether it’s that they’re walking hunched over or that they sit slumped forward. Give them the opportunity to share whether it’s because they’re hurting or if it’s something they’ve been doing all of their life.
If their poor posture is a habit, offer ways to change it so it is healthier. Suggest they set their watch to chime hourly, for instance, prompting them to notice and potentially readjust their posture each time it sounds. Show them what proper posture looks like and the different ways they can achieve it on their own.
Their stress levels
Not only can high levels of stress make it harder for patients to heal any current spinal issues, but it can also lead to back problems far down the road. Spine-health shares that stress-related back pain is a psycho-physiological illness “in which physical symptoms are thought to be the direct result of psychological or emotional factors.” In other words, mental stress can manifest itself in physical back pain.
This makes it important to talk with patients about how they’re handling the stressors in their lives. Are they finding ways to unwind at the end of the day or are they letting the stress continue to pile up, with nowhere for it to go? If the latter is the case, offer healthy ways to combat stress, such as going for a walk, talking with a friend, or even seeing a counselor or therapist. This can help them mentally as well as physically, providing a dual benefit.
Their sleep habits
Sometimes it’s a person’s sleep habits that put them at risk for spinal issues later in life. For this reason, you may want to ask whether they sleep on their front, back, or side. Whatever their response, encourage them to better support their spine in their preferred sleep position so they don’t face back problems due to the way they choose to rest.
When talking about sleep habits, it’s also important to discuss whether patients are getting enough sleep as research has found that lack of sleep can impact their levels of pain. For instance, one 2015 meta-analysis published in Sleep Medicine found that sleep deprivation had a “medium effect” on a person’s perception of pain. Thus, inquire as to whether they’re getting the recommended amount and brainstorm ways they can improve in this area if they’re not.
Once you’ve highlighted these behaviors and offered patients ways to overcome the habits that could cause damage to their spine, make it a point to follow up with them in future visits. Ask how they’re doing and address the areas in which they are still struggling. Let them know that you care about their health both now and well into the future, and that you’re willing to invest the time and energy to make sure both are as great as they can be.