We’ve all heard the proverb, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes.” This timeworn phrase, however, would be more accurate – at least from a medical perspective – if it read: Nothing is certain but death, taxes, and back pain.
That’s because, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 75% to 85% of Americans will experience back pain – specifically lower back pain – at some point in their lives.
In fact, studies have shown that back pain is the second leading cause of lost work time, after the common cold
The more you understand about back pain, the better chance you have of – if not preventing it entirely – at least minimizing its aching impact.
Back Pain Blame
Given that it affects so many people, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that back pain is rooted in multiple causes. The first cause category can be considered mechanical – meaning, physical problems within the back itself, including:
- vertebra misalignment;
- disc herniation/breakdown;
- tense muscles;
- ruptured discs.
Back pain also can be traced to conditions or diseases such as:
- spina bifida;
- spinal stenosis;
- kidney stones;
An injury to the back – from a sprain to a fracture – obviously also will result in pain. Additionally, as a general rule, the prevalence of back pain increases with both age and weight.
Fortunately, there are plenty of steps you can take to keep your back in tip-top shape. Specifically, to maintain a healthy back you should:
- Pay attention to posture –The way you carry yourself throughout the day definitely leaves an imprint on your back. Simply put, poor posture leads to muscle fatigue and pain. To avoid these outcomes, when walking or sitting, keep your ears behind your shoulders and your shoulders behind your hips. Additionally, make a conscious effort to not slouch. When sitting, it’s also important to change your position about every 20 minutes.
- Lift with your legs – Among the most common causes of back pain is lifting objects – particularly heavy objects – by using the muscles in your back, rather than those in your legs. The key is to bend at your knees or hips, and then employ leg power for the actual lifting.
- Switch sides and travel light – Whatever you carry throughout the day – be it a backpack, baby, purse, or briefcase – frequently switch the side on which you carry it. Also, travel light; if you can feel the weight of whatever’s in your purse, backpack, etc., chances are you’re carrying too much.
- Exercise regularly – What, you might wonder, does exercise have to do with back health? Actively using your muscles and joints – particularly those in your back – increases strength as well as flexibility and thus decreases the likelihood of sustaining a back injury.
- Stop smoking – Not only does smoking harm your lungs and other vital organs, but it also can prevent discs in your back from receiving needed nutrients. Also, a cough from smoking can cause back pain and, because smokers’ bodies heal slower than non-smokers, back pain may linger longer.
When to See a Doctor Even if you’ve taken all of the appropriate precautions, you still may experience back pain. Acute back pain occurs suddenly and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Applying ice to the area for 20 minutes (then repeating at hour intervals) may help. Taking acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen also can ease pain. Back pain is considered chronic if it lasts for more than three months. In this case, medical attention should be sought. You should also see a doctor if you have:
- numbness or tingling;
- severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest;
- pain plus any of these problems:
►numbness in legs;
►unexplained weight loss.
Back pain can be both serious and debilitating; don’t make the mistake of assuming it will go away. Fortunately, there are a variety of medical solutions. Step one – contact your health-care provider.
Sources http://www.aans.org/Patient%20Information/Conditions%20and%20Treatments/Low%20Back%20Pain.aspx http://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/arthritis-osteoporosis-and-chronic-back-conditions http://healthfinder.gov/HealthTopics/Category/everyday-healthy-living/safety/prevent-back-pain http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/multimedia/back-pain/sls-20076225?s=4 http://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/back-pain/basics/when-to-see-doctor/sym-20050878 http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Back_Pain/back_pain_ff.asp