Maintain Your Healthy Back
Millions of Americans suffer from back pain every year, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. After the common cold and the flu, back aches are the most common reason for going to the doctor.
Approximately 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain some time during their life.
The reasons for the pain are many, including diseases such as arthritis, bad posture, accidents, improper exercise or lifting, strenuous sports movements, obesity and weak muscles, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).
Strengthening your back
Aside from accidents and disease, the common conditions that cause back pain in otherwise healthy people often can be prevented by proper exercise, attention to movements and weight control, according to the AAOS.
Simple exercises can stretch and strengthen abdominal, hip, leg and back muscles to relieve the spine of its daily rigors: sit-ups, side bends, stretches, leg lifts, wall slides, mild squatting, walking, moderate twisting and scores of other controlled movements.
Before beginning any exercise program, discuss with your health care provider the best approach to relieving your back pain or preventing it from occurring.
You can prevent the problem
Back pain often can be prevented through careful attention to what you are doing when lifting, playing sports, standing, exercising or making sudden movements.
Here are some recommendations from the AAOS:
Sports. Golf, tennis, baseball and softball are "twisting" activities. They put tremendous pressure on the lower back instantaneously, sometimes resulting in strained muscles or slipped discs. If you are playing these sports, consciously tell yourself to slow or temper your twisting motion. Don't raise the golf club all the way up; swing the bat and racket a little more gently.
Lifting. Whether helping a sick person out of a bed, heaving a box off the floor or lifting a child from a seat, be careful to keep your back straight at all times, allowing your legs to carry the strain of the weight. If the person or object is too heavy for your legs to lift, then don't lift by yourself. Get another person to help. Be creative and save your back.
Exercise. Before you begin back exercises, warm up by walking or doing light aerobics. When doing the exercises, concentrate on isolating the muscle you're working on and keeping the movement fluid, without jerking or straining. Begin with just a few minutes a day and work up to 10 or 15 minutes. Pace yourself and slowly stretch and strengthen your weaker muscles hard. If you do not know how to isolate a muscle, consider scheduling a session with a physical trainer.
Posture. Standing and sitting straight are habits that are learned and practiced. Slouching forward or backward puts undo strain on the lower back. Give yourself a "standing order" to be aware of your posture and correct it when necessary. After you have strengthened your abdominal and back muscles, these orders will be easier to carry out.
A healthy back helps you maintain a healthy disposition in life. Exercise and controlled movements can help you achieve and maintain a strong back.
Home care ideas
Even though back pain can be alarming, mild back strain treatment may include, but not be limited to:
Apply cold, then heat. Immediately after an injury, apply an ice pack for about 20 minutes three or four times a day for the first day or two. Once the acute pain subsides, switch to applications of heat. Moist heat is better than dry heat.
Over-the-counter medications. Aspirin and ibuprofen can reduce both swelling and pain. Non-aspirin pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, only control pain. Check with your health care provider if you are taking other medications or if you have a history of ulcer disease, kidney disease or liver disease.
Rest. Avoid strenuous activity. Bed rest is usually not necessary and not recommended, because it may perpetuate the problem. See your provider if your back still hurts after a few days.
Talk with your healthcare provider about what treatment is best for you.
When to see a doctor
There are instances where do-it-yourself measures are not adequate. See your health care provider immediately if back pain is severe, if it's the result of a fall or accident, if you have osteoporosis, or you have any of the following signs:
Pain that does not go away after two days of rest
Numbness, weakness or tingling down the leg
An inability to move your toes
Loss of bladder or bowel control