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Sneezing during this hay fever season? Watch your back!

Sneezing this Hayfever Season

As a chiropractor, I've encountered numerous misconceptions about bodily movements that may seem harmless at first glance but can pose risks to our spinal health. One such misconception revolves around the act of sneezing, particularly when done in a forward flexed position. Incidentally, and for the same reasons, the seemingly mundane task of using the toilet can also harbour hidden dangers for our spinal discs. In this article, I aim to shed light on these lesser-known risks and highlight the importance of understanding our body's anatomy to prevent potential injuries.


Image by <a href="">Mojca-Peter</a> from <a href="">Pixabay</a>

To comprehend why sneezing in a forward flexed position can be problematic, it's crucial to have a basic understanding of spinal anatomy. Our spine consists of a series of vertebrae stacked on top of one another, cushioned by intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers, providing flexibility and support to the spine. However, they are susceptible to injury, particularly under certain conditions.


When we sneeze, our bodies undergo a sudden and forceful expulsion of air through the nose and mouth. This force generates pressure within the chest cavity, known as intrathoracic pressure, which can reach significant levels. In a standing or upright position, this pressure is typically distributed evenly throughout the spine. However, when we sneeze while bent forward, the force of the sneeze combined with the flexed position can lead to uneven distribution of pressure along the spinal discs.


Intrathecal pressure, or pressure within the spinal canal, also increases during activities such as sneezing and, as said, bearing down while on the toilet. This pressure can exert additional strain on the intervertebral discs, potentially leading to injury. A common type of injury associated with such pressure is a herniated or “slipped disc”. This occurs when the soft inner core of the disc protrudes through the tough outer layer, putting pressure on nearby nerves and causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the leg.


Furthermore, bearing down too hard while sitting on the toilet, particularly during bowel movements, can exacerbate the risk of disc injury. The act of straining increases intra-abdominal pressure, which in turn elevates intrathecal pressure. Over time, repetitive strain from excessive bearing down can weaken the integrity of the spinal discs, making them more susceptible to injury.


As a chiropractor, I often witness patients who unknowingly aggravate their spinal health through everyday activities like sneezing or using the toilet. That's why I advocate for greater awareness of proper body mechanics and the potential risks associated with certain movements. Simple adjustments, such as maintaining an upright posture while sneezing and avoiding excessive straining during bowel movements, can contribute to mitigating these risks and protect our spinal health in the long run.


So in conclusion, when that pollen reaches your nasal passages and you feel that sneeze coming on, try and keep upright as much as possible. If you are demonstrating signs of spine or nerve pain, it is advised to seek professional guidance. Our clinic offers a free 15-minute chat, should you need advice or support.  


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