Back Pain: Back in Trouble Again

Submitted by SharpHealth Team on Sunday 10th October 2010
In this article
  • Why do you get back pain?
  • Who is likely to get it?
  • How can you avoid it?

Back to Basics

Eight out of every ten SharpMen experience back pain at some time in their lives. For those of us under 50, back pain follows colds as the second cause for not showing up for work. In fact, back injuries are the leading cause of disability leave for 19- to 45-year-olds, with "lumbar strain" accounting for 70 percent or more of all back pain.

As it turns out, acute back pain is most often the result of muscle strain rather than an actual problem with the back. Pain of this nature generally lingers for two to six weeks. Recovery is aided (i.e., you’ll get better, faster) by exercise, not bed rest. Doctors often recommend an over-the-counter remedy, such as aspirin, or warm and/or cold compresses.

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If back pain lasts longer than six weeks, it is considered chronic. A herniated or ruptured disc is often the cause of chronic back pain in SharpMen between the ages of 35 to 49. While not recommended for long-term care, many doctors will inject patients with cortisone to help manage the pain. Of course, masking back pain doesn’t make it better. SharpMen who suffer from herniated or ruptured discs should receive counseling regarding strengthening the muscles in their backs, daily stretching routines and a possible need for reparative surgery.

Back in Shape

Ultimately, the best way to deal with back pain is to avoid it. Preventive measures can go a long way towards maintaining your back health. To begin getting "back in shape," consider the following:

Stretch out. For starters, stretching every day and doing exercises such as "Williams Flexion" exercises (which are exercises that help to strengthen the muscles and joints of the lower back, upper back and abdominal area) will keep your back strong. To learn more about these exercises read The Complete Guide to Sports Injuries by H. Winter Griffith, M.D. Of course, you should always check with your physician before starting any exercise program.

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Slim down. Lose those extra pounds. A lighter profile reduces the amount of weight forcing the spine forward, and therefore lessens your back’s workload.

Bend. Bend your knees and hips before lifting anything. Avoid lifting heavy objects, and if you must do so, wear a weight belt to help keep your back straight, or get a friend to help balance out the burden. Never lift anything while bending down at the waist.

Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking promotes spinal column disc degeneration and reduces the back's blood supply.

Sleep right. Back care doesn’t stop just because you do. When you turn in, avoid sleeping on your stomach. This position goes against your spine's natural curve. Instead, make a point of sleeping on your side with a pillow beneath your head. Then tuck a second pillow between your knees. You’ll never find a better excuse for hogging all of the pillows.

Watch it. Avoid sudden strong movements. These can strain muscles that are weak or overused. Examples of sudden strong movements include suddenly bending over to pick something up off the floor or reaching over too far and too quickly to catch a falling object. These movements may cause spinal discs to slip or pinched nerves. They may even help to "throw your back out."

Stand up straight. Yes, just like your mother always told you. Standing fully erect is the best policy for keeping your back healthy. And if you’re standing around for long periods of time, try to balance your weight equally between both feet.

Sit up. When working, driving or otherwise seated, avoid slouching. (Don't you ever listen to your mother?) Ideally, try to use chairs that provide lower back support. Once in your seat, keep both feet flat on the ground or on a raised footrest, which avoids abdominal and lower back strain. Finally, while seated at the computer, keep your lower arms (elbows to hands) horizontal, parallel to the floor. This position helps prevent straining your back. Your arms are in a more "natural" position in relation to your body rather than being stretched out too far. This position also helps prevent other muscle strains.

Break it. Driving or sitting for too long? Plan to take a five-minute break every hour. Take this opportunity to get up, walk around and do some stretching.

Play easy. Avoid sports that put severe stress on your back. For example, running, golf, basketball, football and baseball all ask a lot of your spinal column — they’re "high impact" for your back (although they may not be for other parts of your body). Conversely, "pain-free" sports include swimming, walking and stationary bicycling.

Height disadvantage. SharpMen with long legs are more likely to have one leg slightly longer than the other. This leads to lower-back pain because the back compensates for an imbalanced stance. Additionally, because tall SharpMen tend to have longer torsos and backs, they greatly benefit from abdominal and lower-back strength training that helps back muscles "hold up" a larger body mass.

Running straight. Joggers who run on the slanted edge of the road, near the curb, also end up straining their back in the same manner as those SharpMen with one foot longer than the other. Because the road is higher for one foot, they put strain on their back in an imbalanced manner. To avoid this and help prevent injury, make a point of beginning your run with the flow of traffic and (where safe) running against it on your return trip.

Back on Track

Educating yourself about back pain is a must. Once you’ve experienced back pain, you are four times as likely to suffer from it again. While you may not be able to avoid back pain all together, at least you can minimize the type and duration.

Many SharpMen who engage in periodic physical activity (the so-called "weekend athletes" or "weekend warriors") may find that they experience back pain more often than others. This is because our back muscles require strengthening, just like other muscle groups.

An appropriate warm-up and an exercise program that focuses on strengthening the abdominal region often suffices to address most back pain. Exercise routines that encourage flexibility like aerobics and stretching (yes, a great way to scope out the ladies) also help.

For more information on avoiding back pain, check out the following resources:

Complete Guide to Sports Injuries

by H. Winter Griffith, M.D.

Handbook of Sports Injuries

by R. Charles Bull, M.D.

Sports Injury Handbook Professional Advice for Amateur Athletes

by Allan M. Levy, M.D. and Mark L. Fuerst

Stretch and Strengthen

by Judy Alter

This article last updated on Sunday 10th October 2010
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