Though male and female spines possess the same anatomical structure, the issues a man experiences may be different.
Gender differences or not, back pain, affects up to 80 percent of the American population at some point in their lives. Especially now, with more people spending time at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we may not be moving our bodies enough to keep our spines healthy. But for men and women, back pain can have an unequal effect on how and why it presents itself. Knowing what to look for is crucial for keeping the pain at bay, or from allowing it to worsen.
Sciatica – Some studies have shown that men can be up to 3 times more likely to be affected by sciatica than women. Though the reasons aren’t fully understood, this is one back pain condition that not everyone knows to consider. A large nerve called the sciatic nerve is present at the low back and then branches off and travels down the back of both legs. When the spine is injured, or there is other pressure on the sciatic nerve, it can cause “electrical shock-like” pain that can be felt in the low back, the hip, backside, or down the affected leg. Most of the time, over-the-counter medication and physical therapy, in some cases, might be all that is required to keep sciatica manageable. However, suppose the pain’s cause is related to a herniated disc or bone spur in the spine. In that case, the underlying condition must be addressed to relieve the sciatica pain completely.
Tight Hips – Though each sex has a set of hips, men and women differ significantly in hip and pelvic anatomy. For example, the female pelvis is typically broader and shorter, while the male pelvis is taller and more extended. Though these may not seem like “big deal” differences, they can be for several reasons. Whether it is studies of hip range of motion in young athletes or front- impact car accidents comparing both genders, unfortunately, men tend to fare worse due to their hips’ anatomical structure. Some of these studies report a reduced range of hip motion in men. So, if the hips are incredibly tight, perhaps in a man who sits at a job for several hours out of the day, it can create a tilt on the pelvis that often leads to stress on the spine. When that happens, the problem could present itself by way of back pain. Combatting this problem is relatively simple if you keep in mind that the hips and spine are co-workers. The hips are spine stabilizers, so keeping them open and flexible helps relieve spinal pressure. By performing some light stretching using a foam roller in combination with corrective strength-training exercises, you can help keep your hips healthy and pain free.
Stress – On the topic of stress, I want to address that I am fully aware that it can affect both men AND women – and severely at times. Stress, in and of itself, is linked to an increase in pain sensitivity. As anyone who is “stressed out” can attest, the feeling can make your muscles tense, leading to ongoing back and neck pain. However, in terms of how stress manifests in the body, there can be differences in how a man responds physically to it. Back and neck pain are often reported symptoms of stress in men, whereas in women, the most reported stress symptoms are headaches, feeling emotionally volatile, or upset stomach/digestive issues. The bottom line here is that stressors are unique to the individual, as is the way those stressors physically manifest. So, it is essential to engage in some form of stress-relieving practice every day. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, or something else – the effects are real, and the life stress must be addressed to eliminate the back pain and other associated symptoms.
Gentlemen, it’s never too late to make spine health a priority. Just about anything you do daily can affect your spine – it is that important a structure in your body. If you’re currently battling back pain, try to figure out what might be causing it in terms of your making lifestyle choices. If modifying those factors fails to provide relief, then it is time to see a doctor to get to the bottom of it so you can return to enjoying a pain-free and healthier lifestyle.