Living with Back Pain

Back pain can be a debilitating and life altering problem for many Americans. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, 80% of Americans will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Most of the time back pain is an uncomfortable annoyance, although in some cases, it may be serious and require medical attention. Pain is usually associated with how our bones, muscles, ligaments and tendons work together.

While back pain can occur at any age, it more commonly effects those between 35-55 years old. Other risk factors for back pain include a sedentary lifestyle, stress, anxiety, depression, smoking, pregnancy, sleep disorders, obesity, strenuous physical activity, and strenuous exercise, especially if exercises are not performed correctly. There are many possible causes of back pain, but the most common is due to strained muscles, strained ligaments, and muscle spasms due to heavy lifting, improper lifting form, or abrupt or awkward movements. For most of the population, everyday activities, poor posture or a bad mattress are frequently responsible for back pain.  This may be the result of sitting or standing too long, driving for long periods, sitting in a hunched position, over-stretching, bending awkwardly, or pushing/pulling/carrying items. Back problems may also be due to structural problems, such as ruptured disks, bulging disks, sciatica, arthritis, scoliosis, or osteoporosis. More seriously, pain may sometimes be due to cancer of the spine, spinal infections, bladder or kidney infections, and shingles, so contact a doctor if your pain is accompanied by fever, inflammation, numbness, pain radiating down the legs, or incontinence.

In most cases, back pain can be treated at home and will not need imaging scans or treatment by a physician, though surgery may be indicated for those with structural issues.  For pain, doctors usually suggest over the counter NSAIDS, codeine, and cortisone injections. To alleviate pain, complementary therapies such as acupuncture, shiatsu, chiropractic manipulation, and osteopathy are also sometimes recommended. TENS therapy (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) may also be utilized; it emits small electric pulses through electrodes on the skin.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could avoid back pain altogether?  Well, there are steps you can take to prevent the onset of back pain. First, adopt healthy behaviors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a normal body weight. Additionally, it is important to engage in regular exercise to build strength and flexibility. Physical activity also helps to prevent obesity, which, on its own, is a risk factor for back pain. It is also important to be aware of your posture both when sitting and standing and to correct poor posture as often as possible. When standing, keep a neutral pelvis with straight legs, stand upright, and keep your head forward. While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor and make sure your knees and hips are level. Your arms should be at right angles if you are using a keyboard, and your lower back should be supported. Next, be careful when lifting. Always bend your knees, never twist and lift, and push rather than pull objects!  Finally, make sure you have a supportive mattress so that your spine can remain straight.

If you follow these suggestions, you can help reduce the onset of back pain and also alleviate some of your discomfort if back pain does occur. Be as active as possible in a safe and effective way, and you can keep your body moving pain free as long as possible!

Posted in Blog, Fitness and Health Articles.