Back pain is one of the most common reasons that Americans call in sick to work, with total costs in the United States exceeding $100 billion every year.
Spinal disorders such as back pain, neck pain, scoliosis, stenosis, and disc disease are common and can have a severe effect on a person’s overall health in a variety of ways.
It impacts a person’s ability, makes it hard to do everyday activities and disrupts healthy sleep patterns.
In recognition of World Spine Day, spine surgeons at the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian offer tips on how to be proactive about spine health.
“The back is a complex structure with many delicate parts, but with good judgment and healthy lifestyle habits — including proper lifting, good posture and exercise.
It’s possible to avoid common back pain caused by strained muscles,” says Dr. Lawrence Lenke.
“For more complicated spinal problems such as scoliosis, stenosis, fractures or injuries from trauma, medical intervention is usually necessary for effective treatment.
But each person with or without spinal problems can benefit from adopting healthier lifestyle habits to keep your spine as strong as possible.”
The vast majority of patients with lower-back pain improve by avoiding pain-provoking activities. Back pain is usually caused by strain or sprain of muscles, ligaments or soft tissue.
Also, patients aren’t encouraged to stay in their bed for longer than 48 hours, as lack of activity can delay recovery.
Here, researchers offer suggestions to help prevent back pain.
Back Pain Prevention Tips
Exercise and Wellness
Regular cardiovascular exercise can make injury less likely.
Stretching and strengthening exercises can increase back and abdomen flexibility.
Get up and walk around every 15-30 minutes if you have a sedentary, sitting job.
Maintain a healthy body weight and don’t smoke.
Maintain good posture even while sitting. Don’t slouch or hold your head too far forward.
In good sitting alignment, the feet are supported, the hips are level with or slightly above the knees, the spine is slightly reclined, and a small arch in the lower back is maintained.
If sitting at a computer, the shoulders are relaxed and away from the ears, the elbows are by the sides, bent to about 90 degrees, the wrists are neutral (not bent up, down, or away from each other) and the head is facing front without protruding forward.
If using a mobile phone or tablet for non-voice activities, hold it up instead of bending your neck to look down.
The more you look down at a mobile phone or tablet, the more the muscles have to work to keep your head up.
At just 45 degrees, your neck muscles are doing the work of lifting a 50 lb. bag of potatoes.
When lifting an object, make sure it is properly balanced and packed correctly so the object’s weight won’t shift when lifted. Keep the weight close to your body.
Take your time lifting. Rushing will strain your muscles.
Bend at the hips and knees, not the lower back. Maintain proper posture with your back straight and head up. Use your legs to lift.
For those with more complex spinal problems such as scoliosis, myelopathy, neck or low back nerve impingement, chronic sciatica, stenosis or vertebral fractures, researchers recommend getting an immediate medical assessment.
Individuals who have back injuries due to severe trauma also are advised to seek professional medical help.
Indications that a serious injury has occurred include abnormal bowel or bladder function, bilateral sciatica (pain down both legs), significant nocturnal pain, weight loss, fever and severe pain.
Symptoms such as loss of balance or dexterity, constant numbness or weakness could also indicate neurological issues.
In these cases, patients are referred for a diagnostic workup that may include X-ray, MRI and CT scan.
When a diagnosis is made, treatment can include physical therapy, complementary medicine (acupuncture, magnetic therapy, herbal medications and more) and surgery for serious conditions.
“We offer all of the latest state-of-the-art microsurgical and minimally invasive surgical (MIS) options for treatment of spinal conditions,” says Dr. Ronald Lehman.
“These techniques have improved the safety and efficiency with which patients with spinal disorders are treated.”