Constipation: When It’s Not Just The 405 Freeway That’s Backed Up

Austin Powers, the International Man of Mystery, might still be wondering “Who does number two work for?”, but understanding your bowel movements (BM) shouldn’t be a mystery. Although it doesn’t top the list of hot topics at happy hour, every year more than 2 million Americans visit their doctor due to constipation.

Constipation is typically defined as less than three bowel movements per week. For some, this may be frequent enough while others might feel significant discomfort at this rate. Common symptoms of constipation include straining, lumpy or hard stools, a sensation of incomplete stool removal after defecating, feeling of rectal blockage, or only being able to have soft/loose stools after using laxatives. Constipation frequently occurs because of slow evacuation of stool from the colon, or infrequent bowel movements. In many cases changes in lifestyle and diet can provide significant relief of symptoms (more about this later).

Although uncomfortable, constipation is not usually a serious medical problem. In some cases, however, a medical professional should address your symptoms. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have a more serious gastrointestinal problem and should see your doctor as soon as possible:

• Blood or mucous in your stool

• Unintentional Weight loss of greater than 10 pounds in the last 3-6 months

• Severe Abdominal Pain

• Very thin stool (about the thickness of a pencil)

• Greasy or oily stool

Here are a few tips to help you get things moving:

Check your Meds: Several medications are known to cause constipation and could be wreaking havoc on your routine. Meds like iron, anti-inflammatories, and prenatal vitamins can all cause constipation. Review your medications with your physician and see if any of them may be responsible for your symptoms.

Get Regular: Although having a bowel movement isn’t an Olympic sport, your body requires significant training to alleviate constipation. Try to use the bathroom within 15-30 minutes of waking up. This is when your colon is most active and can help you push out stool. Another time to consider a BM is about half an hour after a meal. Both the brain and GI tract work together to signal the body to push your food along. This can be an easy time to empty your vault.

Change your Diet: It’s easy to make bad choices from time to time (ahem, Kristin Stewart), especially when it comes to food. Unfortunately, foods high in oil, fat, preservatives, and dairy can worsen constipation. Reducing or eliminating these foods can help decrease constipation. Increasing fiber in your diet can also help improve constipation. This means eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Aim to consume about 25 grams of fiber daily. If this is hard for you, consider a fiber supplement or powder you can mix with water.

Drink More Water: Consuming enough water is important because adequate hydration helps eliminate hard stool. Frequent consumption of soda and coffee can worsen constipation. This is because their diuretic effects eliminate the water necessary to keep stool soft. If your bloodstream is a fountain of diet coke, try to take in more water throughout the day to improve your BM’s.

Get Moving: Even though we’ve made huge strides in technology, watching the 100- meter dash doesn’t mean you’re exercising! Regular exercise for at least 20 minutes a day has been shown to significantly improve and eliminate constipation. Exercise has also been shown to help women develop regular bowel schedules and reduce abdominal pain and bloating.

Let your body and bowels adapt to change. Make an effort to implement some of these tips, and see how you are feeling after two weeks. If you are still struggling with constipation, make an appointment with your personal physician for a detailed exam.

Back Pain: You Can Do It, Just Don’t Put Your Back Into It!

It turns out almost nine out of ten adults will suffer from back pain at some point in their lifetime. So if you hurt your back from long hours in high heels, a Groupon Pilates class, or from carrying your baby, today’s article may help you get “back” on your feet.

Although back pain is a common problem, particularly amongst women, acute back pain has many origins. Often times it can be attributed to obesity, weak abdominal muscles, injuries, or trauma.  Additionally, those with osteoporosis or decreased levels of vitamin D often suffer from back pain.

Most cases of pain will resolve on their own without much intervention from a physician or medications. Typically pain lasts for 2-6 weeks with complete resolution after this time.  In many cases, a minimal movement of twisting, bending, or heavy lifting can trigger an acute attack of pain. That means you don’t have to log an hour of Zumba at the gym, even unloading the dishwasher can trigger back pain if you’re not careful!

Most back pain is described as aching pain in the lower back and buttocks. Occasionally this pain may radiate down the legs as well. This is called sciatica or sciatic pain because the pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve (a nerve that begins in the lower back and goes down the back of the legs). You may also feel occasional sharp or stabbing pain, particularly when you twist or bend. This may be due to inflamed muscles or irritation of nerves around the lower back.

There are a few symptoms that should never be taken lightly.  If you or someone you know develops back pain and weakness in their hips or legs this could be an emergency. Additionally, if any bowel or bladder incontinence or urinary retention is present you, should seek medical attention immediately before any permanent nerve damage is done. Finally, back pain with fever or back pain in any patients with cancer should always be considered an emergency.

When treating your pain, the best place to start is by using heat or cold packs in the area. Many people find relief from alternating both temperatures. Also try a medication like Ibuprofen, which is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that can decrease inflammation and help alleviate pain. Avoid bed rest! It may be tempting to sit in bed and watch re-runs of “Saved by the Bell” all day while you are recuperating, however many studies suggest that bed rest lengthens recovery time and may even lead to worsening injuries.  If you have not had relief or are experiencing worsening pain, visit your doctor. He/she may decide you need more time with the same treatment or consider a stronger medication or muscle relaxant. Don’t be alarmed if your doctor doesn’t order an x-ray.  A recent study showed that imaging studies like x-rays and MRI’s done for acute back pain are rarely abnormal and often create unnecessary costs and radiation for the patient.

Use good form: Make an effort to always bend from the knees and waist together rather than bending over only from the back.  As fun as it was to practice that “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde, you may want to tuck that skill away to keep you pain free.

Focus on strengthening your core muscles. Your abdominal muscles work together with the back muscles to anchor and support the spine. Working your core and maintaining good posture will also help reduce your pain and eliminate future injuries.

Give your High Heels a Break: High heels may look great, but often times a very high or thin heel can put a significant amount of pressure on the lower back. If your shoes are like this, consider wearing them for only a small period of time.  High heels can also cause women to lean forward to help re-distribute their weight, which can aggravate existing back injuries.

So the next time you’re at the gym, or rocking out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest hit, think about protecting your back, or you’ll be sitting on your couch waiting for your doctor to “call you..maybe?!”.