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What's Up Magazine

We've Got Your Back

Feb 06, 2012 06:08PM ● By Anonymous
It’s the second-leading cause of doctor’s appointments and missed workdays (right behind colds/flu). Maybe we should have listened to our elders when they told us to sit up straight and not slouch.

Poor posture, however, isn’t the only potential cause of that sore sacroiliac. Anyone who has ever filled up and emptied a U-Haul or lugged around a pleasingly plump toddler knows that improper or heavy lifting can be a back killer. Back pain can have other causes as well, so it’s important to note that back pain is a symptom and not a diagnosis. In rare instances it can be the result of diseases of the internal organs, like kidney infections or blood clots…or it could stem from sprained ligaments, strained muscles, ruptured discs, irritated joints, or degenerative diseases like arthritis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include muscle aches, shooting or stabbing pain, pain that radiates down your leg, limited flexibility or range of motion of your back, and the inability to stand up straight. Back pain that lasts from a few days to a few weeks is considered acute; pain that lasts for three months or longer is considered chronic.

When you first experience an episode of back pain, either in the lower, middle, or upper area, Dr. Melanie B. Kinchen, medical director at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine and spokesperson for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), suggests icing the area for the first 24 hours and regularly taking an anti-inflammatory. If the discomfort persists, you should see your primary care physician. (If the pain is radiating and you feel burning, numbness, or weakness in the legs or arms, Dr. Kinchen recommends seeking medical attention immediately as those are signs that the pain may be nerve-related.)

For most back pain, however, there are a variety of treatments you can explore with your doctor. You may decide to see a physical therapist or a chiropractor. Low back pain is the main reason people seek chiropractic care. According to the Mayo Clinic, research shows that “chiropractic adjustment may offer mild to moderate relief from low back pain. In some studies, chiropractic adjustment proved to be as effective as other, more conventional treatments.”

Additional therapies might include yoga, Pilates, and tai chi—all labeled “mindful movement” treatments—which can help you be more aware of the alignment of the spine and strengthen muscles that support alignment. Acupuncture is also seen by many as an alternative treatment to alleviate back pain.

But why is back pain so common? NBC News once posed the question to Dr. Mark Weidenbaum, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. His response was concise: “Gravity and movement: Our muscles have to work constantly to hold us upright against gravity and to move us around—even when we are sitting or lying down. These muscles can get tired,” he says. “This is especially true if we make their job harder by being overweight or being out of shape.”

Even though the likelihood of experiencing back pain in your lifetime is high, and your back does degenerates from regular wear and tear over time, there are measures you can take to hold that pain at bay.

Prevention is worth a pound of Advil

“Strong muscles, especially in the trunk region [center part of the body], help to carry body weight and to prevent the spine from getting overloaded,” Dr. Weidenbaum explains. “However, when these muscles get weak, the spine must compensate and do extra work, thereby causing pain.”

“Having a strong core is really important,” Dr. Kinchen agrees. “People sit at a desk all day, all week and then they go out on the weekend and decide, ‘Oh, [I’m] going to weed the whole garden,’ but they haven’t really been taking care of their back the rest of the time.” We all know to warm up before exercising, but warming up or stretching before other physical activities, like gardening, will also reduce the chance of hurting your back.

If you sit at a computer or a desk for long periods of the day, make sure your papers, computer screen, and chair are all at a comfortable height and position for you. Hunching or needing to over reach for any one thing means you need to reposition. Some employers may even conduct ergonomic evaluations to assist their workers. Considering the amount of missed time caused by back pain, it could be money well spent.

And when you do bend down to pick up that carton of books, remember this: Always lift with your knees while keeping the object close to your body…and do not twist your body while lifting. You also might consider asking someone to help you share the load every once in a while.