Even as summer winds down, amusement parks and carnivals are a draw – especially for families wanting to grab a last thrill before school starts. Some roller coasters and wild rides at these places can wreak havoc on your spine. But with a little preparation, you can join in the fun while minimizing pain.
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“Roller coasters and other rides that forcefully throw your body in different directions can be hard on your lower back and neck,” says osteopathic medical specialist Fredrick Wilson, DO of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Spine Health. “That is why the amusement parks warn people with known back problems to avoid these rides.”
Why rides can cause pain
A thrilling ride seems like a lot of fun, but roller coasters can cause pain in the neck, and trauma to bones, muscles, ligaments and other soft tissues.
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Bending forward, or forward flexion of the spine, along with the twisting and rotation from sudden turns, increases pressure at the back side of the disc where your spinal canal is located. These sorts of movements could lead to pain, especially if you have a history of disc problems, and could cause disc herniation.
Bending backward, or extension of the spine, puts more force on the spinal joints, which can aggravate arthritis pain.
Even some of the “tame” rides can lead to pain later, especially if you’re already tense or sore. Sudden, forceful movements can set off muscle spasms.
How to prevent injury
According to Dr. Wilson, the best way to prevent neck or back discomfort from thrill rides is to follow the principles of good spine health. It’s important to do regular stretching and strengthening exercises. Stretching before getting on a ride may help loosen tight muscles and reduce risk of muscle spasms.
If you failed to hydrate and stretch and you’re paying the price the next day, take heart.
“Arthritis pain, once aggravated, can be diminished with anti-inflammatory agents,” like over-the-counter medications, Dr. Wilson says. “Muscle strain or minor ligamental strains or tears suffered after a fast, jarring ride will respond to cold packs or anti-inflammatory agents as well.”
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