Back pain is a significant problem in our country today. Over half of all working people and at least 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time. Back pain is a common health issue today that affects at least 8 out of 10 people. It is the second most frequent reason for doctor’s visits and up to 80 percent of people will experience some type of back problem in their lifetime. Eighty-six billion dollars are spent each year treating back pain.
There are many reasons for back pain. Some of these include overuse of the back muscles, work-related issues, sports injuries, inactivity, poor posture, prolonged sitting, obesity, poor physical conditioning, inactivity, psychological and emotional stress, and silent diseases like osteoporosis.
There are many things you can do to avoid back pain. Always stretch before any strenuous physical activity. Do not slouch when standing or sitting. If you spend most of your time sitting, pay careful attention to consciously sucking in your belly and rotating your pelvis slightly up. At the same time, you should keep your head back, with your ears over your shoulders and your shoulder blades pinched. This posture will keep your spine in proper alignment. Do this every half-hour that you’re sitting, holding the muscles tight for several minutes. Experts suggest that you sit less than 10 hours per day. Sit in chairs or car seats with good lumbar support. Switch your sitting positions often. Avoid bending over without supporting your back. Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. You should also sleep on a firm surface. When weightlifting using your legs, always keep your back straight. Other ideas include maintaining an optimal weight. Quit smoking! Smoking reduces blood flow to your lower spine, causing the spinal discs to degenerate. Get enough vitamin D from sun exposure daily, as vitamin D helps keep your bones––including your spine––strong. Drink plenty of water to enhance the height of your intervertebral disks. Since your body is composed mostly of water, staying hydrated will keep you fluid and reduce stiffness.
There are other things you can do that naturally help you avoid back pain. Stand smart. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least, every half-hour. Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight––no twisting––and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.
Exercise to stretch or strengthen your upper or lower back. Here are some websites that I recommend for good stretches.
Foam Rolling for the Core and Back
Yoga for Back Pain
If there is reason to suspect a specific condition may be causing your back pain, your doctor may order one or more tests:
X-ray images show the alignment of your bones and whether you have arthritis or broken bones. These images alone won’t show problems with your spinal cord, muscles, nerves, or disks. Magnetic imaging resonance (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans can generate images that may reveal herniated disks or problems with bones, muscles, tissue, tendons, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels. Blood tests can help determine whether you have an infection or other condition that might be causing your pain. As a last resort, your doctor may use nerve studies––electromyography (EMG)––or a bone scan to look for tumors or compression fractures caused by osteoporosis. This test measures the electrical impulses produced by the nerves and the responses of your muscles. This test can confirm nerve compression caused by herniated disks or narrow of your spinal canal (spinal stenosis). If your back pain is caused by tense or overworked muscles, massage might help.
There are many safe and effective prescription and over-the-counter (OCT) painkillers that may relieve acute back pain. These OCTs include acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve). Take these medications as directed by your doctor because overuse can cause serious side effects.
Other helpers can be muscle relaxants and topical pain relievers, which are creams, salves, or ointments that you rub into your skin at the site of your pain. Sometimes antidepressants and injections such as cortisones can help for a few months for chronic pain. Surgery is used as a last resort but many times the procedure is less invasive.
Most back problems relieve themselves within a few days or a few weeks. If self-treatment is not successful, be sure to consult a physician for further treatment.
Back Strengthening Exercises
Standing Quad Hip Stretch
Lunging Hip Flexor Stretch
Laying Down Butt Stretch
Butterfly and Happy Baby
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