The act of removing wool from sheep requires a lot of bending and awkward spine positions. Granted, this occupation isn’t as in-demand as it was once was in prior centuries. However, shearer’s spine, the condition named for this physically demanding job, can apply to anyone who spends a significant amount of time bending to perform tasks. Shearer’s spine can also affect floor tilers, carpet layers, plumbers, carpenters, and anyone who regularly tends to a garden. Here’s a closer look at what causes this condition and how it’s treated.
What Causes Shearer’s Spine?
Bending for long periods places a great deal of stress on long muscles referred to as erector spinae muscles. Running parallel on each side of the spine and extending from the lower part of the skull down into the pelvis, these three strong muscles (iliocostalis, longissimus, and spinalis) are designed to absorb stress well. Still, hours of bending can take a toll on erector spinae muscles and contribute to back pain. Contributing factors to shearer’s spine also include:
- Dehydration of lumbar intervertebral discs from frequent bending
- Back muscle contractions that cause a buildup of lactates
- Constant spinal disc pressure that interferes with the body’s natural healing process
- Twisting of the trunk that places more stress on one side of the body
- Progressive shortening of hip flexor muscles from prolonged bending
What Are the Common Signs and Symptoms?
Since lower back muscles and spinal discs are usually affected by shearer’s spine, lower back pain is a common symptom. If one or more lumbar (lower back) discs are affected, discomfort may extend to the hip, buttocks, thighs, and legs, especially if the sciatic nerve, which starts in the lower spine, is compressed.
How Is Shearer’s Spine Treated?
Performing spinal decompression exercises between every two-hour shift may naturally restore disc positions, take pressure off of nearby nerve roots, and keep spine-supporting muscles flexible. If this piece of advice isn’t practical for your occupation or activity, taking frequent breaks to walk around and stretch may provide similar relief. When possible, switch to other tasks that don’t involve bending so your erector spinae muscles have a chance to recover and relax. Shearer’s spine can also be managed, prevented, or treated by:
- Drinking plenty of water to keep spinal discs hydrated
- Doing core strengthening or low-impact aerobic exercises when not working to boost the strength and stability of muscles that support the spine
- Practicing proper lifting techniques
- Stretching before starting tasks involving prolonged bending
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Enhancing your posture
- Eating foods that naturally reduce inflammation
- Taking over-the-counter NSAIDs or pain relievers to manage minor pain
- Applying heat or cold to areas affected by soreness
It’s estimated that 90 percent of sheep shearers will experience back pain at one time or another. Similar stats apply to other occupations requiring frequent bending. While bending for certain work-related tasks can’t be avoided, wearing supportive shoes and using a back brace or lumbar support belt can take direct pressure off of the spine. If you develop back pain that’s distracting enough to affect your job or ability to bend comfortably, and it doesn’t go away after a few days, talk to your doctor or a trusted Santa Monica spine surgeon.
To learn about treatments for fusion surgery and spinal fusion alternatives, Santa Monica residents should reach out to The Spine Institute. Call 310-828-7757 today to speak with one of our knowledgeable representatives.