Back pain is a sore spot for most adults |
Oh, my aching back! From the avid gardener who enjoys weeding to the home improvement enthusiast who hauls heavy lumber, many of us sing the backache blues at the end of an active summer weekend.
Back pain is one of the most common aliments among adults. It is also one of the most misunderstood types of injury despite numerous innovations that have been taking place in this field.
If you suffer from any type of lower back pain, you’re not alone. Four out of five adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their life, according to national statistics.
Family history, age, obesity, arthritis, poor ergonomics in the workplace and injuries on the job are risk factors for back problems. Smoking is now considered a risk factor, too. New research indicates that people who smoke have a higher incidence of back problems than those who don’t smoke.
In most cases, people experience pain that is a result of a pulled or strained muscle. This type of pain typically resolves itself within a month or six weeks of the injury. In some cases, physical therapy might be needed and an anti-inflammatory medication can help.
Persistent back pain lasting over six weeks can be due to a more serious condition and can be accompanied by leg pain and, sometimes, even weakness.
Persistent back problems often require surgery. For most patients, it is a good idea to try non-operative options first such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, acupuncture or a chiropractor. If a patient doesn’t see improvement with one or more of these treatments, surgery may be beneficial.
Persistent back and leg pain can be caused by many different problems in the spine, but the most common causes include lumbar disc herniation, degenerative disc disease and spinal instability such as spondylolisthesis. In older patients, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis and other degenerative conditions are more common.
Across the board, the back takes a lot of abuse. Whether you are a weekend warrior or you sit at a computer all day, there is a considerable amount of wear and tear that occurs on the back and spine.
For the weekend warriors, start slowly and avoid jump-starting any sort of workout programs or heavy lifting. If possible, maintain a consistent routine, not just during a particular season or on the weekends. Be aware of your body. Learn (and use) techniques to strengthen and stretch your muscles.
Work at a desk? Use good posture throughout the day. Look at key ergonomic issues in your job such as the height of your computer screen, the way you use your phone, the position of your chair and desk and any other repetitive task that you complete during the day. Proper ergonomics will help protect your health, especially your back, by minimizing physical stress on the job. Avoid sitting for long periods of time and take frequent breaks to stand and relax your muscles. The core muscles that support your back can become weak during prolonged sitting.
With a little bit of awareness, some improved ergonomics in the workplace, stronger abdominal muscles and less weight around the middle, we can strengthen our backs and prevent persistent problems.
Remember, most people are able to successfully treat their back problems with non-operative options. Very few people need to go on to surgery. For those people who do, back surgery is not what it used to be. Many new techniques such as minimally invasive and motion preserving procedures have been developed and are being used successfully with faster recovery time and less postoperative pain.
Gurvinder Deol, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon with M & M Orthopedics, contributed to this article in cooperation with Edward Hospital.