Like a Spine Out of Water: Hydration and Back Pain

By Sara Butler

Women Staying Hydrated

The surface of the sun is roughly 53,540 degrees Fahrenheit -- give or take a few. What does this have to do with chiropractic? Well, slow your roll, because we’re about to get there.

In late summer it’s not uncommon to walk out your front door and feel like you’re getting blasted with the heat of a thousand suns. It’s hot. It’s really hot. And that makes for more than just a bunch of sweat; it also can lay the groundwork for some serious dehydration.

So, how on earth (or on the sun) does this connect to chiropractic? It turns out that one of the lesser known side effects of dehydration is back pain. If you notice you need to see your chiropractor more often in the warmer months due to an increase in back pain, this might be the reason why.

Water, Water Everywhere

Water is the source of all life. The first organic molecules are thought to have formed through droplets of water. File that one away in your “Use for Jeopardy” mental filing cabinet.”I’ll take ‘Life As We Know’ it for $500, Alex.”

The point I’m trying to make is that water is vital for life – especially your life. You must drink enough water to nourish your body and remain healthy. How much, or how little, water you drink on a daily basis impacts every single organ system and every cell in your body. Without enough water, your body can’t perform at its best and you can even run into some very serious health problems – one of which is back pain.

How Dehydration Causes Back Pain

Between the bones, or vertebrae, in your spine lives a little disc that has a big responsibility. This disc works to help absorb shock on your spine and also helps to shield your back from the damage of daily use leading to wear and tear.

You can think about this disc like a little jelly donut. It has a tough but flexible outer layer surrounding a squishy, jelly-like center. The jelly, officially called the nucleus pulposis, is made up of – guess what? Water.

Your discs are made to lose water and then rehydrate, because the movement of your spine and gravity causes water to flow through your spine and be reabsorbed by the discs. If not enough water is available for the discs to absorb what they’ve lost, then it can’t function as it was meant to. Since most of the jelly inside the discs in your spine is made of water, it will shrink if not hydrated adequately. When it shrinks it will cause the outer layer to take on more of the stress of absorbing shock and supporting your spine. Eventually, this can cause swelling, pain and even a bulge or rupture in the disc's outer shell – and believe me when I say that can be quite uncomfortable.

How to Stay Hydrated

Staying hydrated isn’t as difficult as you think. Here are a few tips to keep you hydrated:

  • Drink enough water – How much is enough? Well, forget 64 ounces of water a day. You should be drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. If you weigh 200 pounds, drink 100 ounces of water each day.

  • Choose water when working out – If your workout is under 60 minutes long, water before, during and after exercise is a good choice. If you exercise for more than 60 minutes or in extreme heat, drink water along with sports drinks that contain sodium and potassium.

  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables – You don’t just get water through drinking, you also get it through foods. Try to work in at least five cups of vegetables and fruits a day. Who doesn’t like watermelon in the summer?

  • Monitor your urine – You can keep tabs on how hydrated you are through the color of your urine. You should aim for urine that is pale yellow. If it’s dark yellow, cloudy or smells bad (not due to something you’ve eaten) then chances are you aren’t getting enough water.

Luckily, your little corner of the world is not the surface of the sun – even if it feels like it sometimes. Just remember that not getting enough water in the heat of summer can do more than just make you thirsty. You need to drink enough water to nourish your entire body, spine and all. If you do experience back pain, just come into The Joint Chiropractic for an evaluation!