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How to keep occasional back pain from becoming chronic

  • Published Friday, March 28, 2014, at 10:35 p.m.

As your back gets older, occasional aches can turn into chronic, perhaps disabling, pain. In the March issue of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, Zachariah Isaac, a physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, offers suggestions aimed at making sure that doesn’t happen. His list:

• Don’t baby your aching back. Cutting back on activity because of temporary pain can lead to muscle weakness, which can make things worse.

• Keep up a regular program of “core” exercises because those middle-of-the-body muscles are the ones that support your lower spine.

•  Stay limber, because tight muscles can increase pain.

• Watch your posture. Focus on standing upright, and don’t slouch when you sit.

• Get enough sleep. “Poor sleep … alters brain chemistry, and you are more prone to developing a chronic pain state.”

Stay positive and relax. Isaac notes that the spine’s close relationship to the brain means that maintaining a good emotional state can have physical benefits. For example, he says, stress-relieving deep-breathing exercises can lessen the pain of a sudden backache.

Medical diet

Over the past two decades, the number of people in the world with diabetes has more than doubled; particularly notable is the rapid increase in Type 2 diabetes among young people. In “The Diabetes Breakthrough,” Osama Hamdy and Sheri R. Colberg offer a program that they say can stop and even reverse the “relentless progression” of that disease.

“Breakthrough” is a word too often used in medical diet books, and this one’s promise of “better health in just 12 weeks” sounds extraordinarily optimistic. But Hamdy, medical director of the Obesity Clinical Program at the Harvard-affiliated Joslin Diabetes Center, and Colberg, an exercise physiologist, say their 12-week strategy has enabled patients at Joslin’s Boston clinic to cut the amount of medication they take by an average of 50 to 60 percent while keeping their disease under control.

If you’re looking for a quick guide to eating and exercising, this isn’t the book for you. But if you want to understand your disease as you try to get better, it has a lot to offer. It starts with an overview of Type 2 diabetes and, in successive weekly installments, the program adds new layers of information, food recommendations and exercises, illustrated with anecdotal experiences of Joslin patients. The exercises are clearly illustrated, and there are countless charts (including a list of 148 distractions to keep you from thinking about food).

As with any such program, the key is sticking with it. “Your main goal is to keep on exercising nearly every day for the rest of your life,” the authors write. No book is going to do that for you.

Washington Post

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