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Doc Talk Doc Talk: Protect your back with these strategies

  • Published Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, at 9:59 p.m.

How’s your back?

If it’s fine, that’s great news. But if you’re like many people, you’re all too familiar with back pain.

According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly everyone gets a sore back at some time in life.

In fact, maybe your back hurts right now.

If so, take heart. Most back pain goes away on its own in a few weeks, reports the NIH. But having a sore back for even a short time can interfere with your job, your home routine and your life in general.

Back pain has many causes. However, the grand majority of people have pain that is not specifically caused by any certain disease or spine abnormality.

It is commonly a combination of muscle and ligament issues that can lead to the pain.

Degenerative discs and arthritis can also be causes.

The best strategy is to prevent back problems before they start.

Keep strong. You can help prevent back pain by strengthening muscles in your abdomen and lower back.

The American Association of Neurological Surgeons recommends doing crunches and other exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles.

Brisk walking, swimming and stationary bicycling are also good options for building muscle strength and flexibility.

Position yourself for health. When you’re standing, relieve pressure on your lower back by placing one foot forward and keeping your knees slightly bent.

Sitting with your knees slightly higher than your hips also helps.

Either way, keep your shoulders back and don’t slouch.

Lift with care. Lifting can be your back’s worst enemy. To protect yourself, keep your back straight, bend your knees and lift with your legs. Hold heavy objects close to your body, and don’t twist your back. If an object is too heavy to lift, get someone to help.

Aim for health. Try to stay at a healthy weight, because extra pounds put a strain on your back. Refrain from smoking — it raises your risk for back pain by reducing blood flow to the spine.

Know when to get help. If you do develop back pain, anti-inflammatory medicines can help provide relief while you heal. You can also try alternating heat and cold to the painful area.

Topical medicines such as menthol and methylsalicylate (Icy Hot, BenGay) can also be helpful. Massage and yoga have also proven to be helpful for back pain.

Manipulation (adjustment of the spine) through an osteopath (D.O.), chiropractor or physical therapist have also been studied to be beneficial.

However, some back pain requires treatment. Visiting with a doctor is recommended if you experience a fall, your pain isn’t improving, or if you also have:

• Numbness in your legs.

• Trouble urinating.

• Weakness.

• Fever.

Find out more about preventing back pain by visiting the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website at morehealth.org/prevention.

Doc Talk is a column about health issues by Wichita-area physicians. This column was written by Michael Palomino of WesleyCare Family Medicine Center West.

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