Back Pain in Your Pocket
[originally published in KCN, July 2003]
While many that get hit with a nasty bout of lumbago will likely have to reach for their wallets when seeking relief, what they may not realize is that the very wallets they are reaching for may be the sly culprit behind it all. It is pretty much common knowledge that many of the female persuasion lug purses that are heavy enough to put someone in the hospital, but what many of us do not realize is that the wallets that men pack in their back pockets can be just as troublesome — even more so in that the problem is less obvious.
I first became aware of the dangers of back pocket wallets when I was in undergraduate school contemplating a career as a chiropractor. A chiropractor I met told me of a patient that he had seen with unrelenting, chronic low back pain. The gentleman had been to nearly seven different doctors, including an orthopedic surgeon, neurologist, and even two chiropractors. Not wanting to give up, the patient eventually found himself in the office of the chiropractor I was talking with. With his patient lying face down on the table, the chiropractor made a keen observation: a large bulge in the back pocket — a bulge that not only contained a few bucks, but a virtual photo album, a slew of receipts, and a stack of plastic. Following this chiropractor’s advice and removing the thickness from his back pocket, he finally began to move forward with treatment and eventually conquered his painful problem.
So why are wallets worn in the back pocket such a dangerous proposition? Well, in a word, “balance.” Placing a wallet in the back pocket throws your pelvis and spine off balance when sitting. It is very much akin to placing an unneeded heel lift in one of your shoes. Think of it as a sort of “butt lift.” The undue stress placed on the spinal joints and pelvis can slowly contribute to the “locking” of segments in the spine (known as subluxations) causing pain, muscle spasm, disc problems, and nerve root irritation — not to mention that the wallet itself can put pressure directly on the sciatic nerve causing the electrical leg pains of sciatica.
While no double-blinded placebo controlled trials have been conducted on wallets and back pain, the faulty mechanics involved are fairly evident. A search through the medical journals on this topic does bring up a couple of interesting titles, however, and from the looks of it, it appears that the knowledge of this problem is not new by any means. In 1968 the Ohio State Medical Journal carried an article entitled “Wallet Hip,” and in 1978 the Journal of the American Medical Association ran an article called “Credit-Card-Wallet Sciatica.”
So what is a man to do? Well, aside from doing some major wallet spring cleaning, I recommend wearing the wallet in the front pocket — especially when sitting. It might take some getting used to, but the benefits will definitely outweigh the initial awkwardness. Besides, with the wallet in your front pocket, the chances of having your pocket picked without your knowing it are, well, almost impossible. For those of you looking to make the transition a little easier, the purchase of a “Front Pocket Wallet” might just fit the bill (www.frontpocketwallet.com).
Taking a proactive stance by making some of these changes now can go a long way in reducing your potential for back problems in the future. If you currently are having back pain, move your wallet out of your back pocket, and consider seeking the assistance of a chiropractor to help you unload the unbalanced stress and tension that is likely plaguing your spine. Because, while it is true that our problems often stem from money, back pain should not be one of them.