If you get back pain - whether it’s an ache, stiffness or sharp pain - you just want it to go away. You’re not alone. More than 80 percent of adults in the United States will have back pain sometime in their lives, according to family practice physician William Lowndes, M.D., of Alegent Health Clinic in Gretna.
Just look at what back pain does to us every year:
- It sends 23 million of us to visit the doctor’s office
- It causes 40 percent of all work absences
- It’s one of the top 10 reasons we visit emergency departments
"Back pain is just a huge problem," said Dr. Lowndes. "If you don’t have it, you probably know someone who does."
Although it is a common ailment, the majority of acute back pain resolves itself within six weeks, requiring just modified rest, analgesics and time, notes Dr. Lowndes. Studies show, in fact, that most people don’t even need an X-ray to diagnose back pain. However, it’s always wise to see your doctor, who will determine if you would benefit not only from an X-ray, but from physical therapy or more acute treatment, as well.
Meanwhile, surely there’s some way to prevent pain in the back, right?
"The best way to avoid back pain is by improving your physical condition and using proper body mechanics in your daily life," said Dr. Lowndes. "Talk with your physician to figure out which activities are best for you."
Check out these tips:
- Step up your exercise routine
Exercise regularly to build endurance and muscle strength - walking, swimming or doing low-impact aerobics are good. You can decrease your risk of falling and injuring your back by doing exercises that increase balance and strength. Try tai chi and yoga, or any weight-bearing exercise that challenges your balance. Core-strengthening exercises help to condition abdominal and back muscles and provide stability to the spine. As you get more flexibility in your hips and upper legs, this aligns your pelvic bones and will improve how your back feels.
- Eat good food
Eating a healthy diet helps you maintain a healthy weight — or to lose weight, if you need to — and avoid putting unnecessary and injury-causing stress and strain on your back. To keep your spine strong, you need to get enough calcium and vitamin D every day. These nutrients help prevent osteoporosis, which is responsible for a lot of the bone fractures that lead to back pain. Most adults don’t get enough calcium and vitamin D, so talk to your doctor about how much you need each day and consider taking a nutritional supplement or a multivitamin.
- Take care when standing and sitting
Learn and use proper body mechanics. If you must stand for long periods of time, alternate placing your feet on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. When working at your desk, use a chair with good lumbar support, giving you adequate back rest and keeping your back straight. Keep your knees and hips level. Take mini-breaks from you chair, and make sure to sit in one position no longer than 10 minutes. You might consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve.
- Don’t lift objects that are too heavy
In a nutshell, practice good posture, support your back properly and avoid heavy lifting when you can. If you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Don’t bend over the item; instead, lift it by putting the stress on your legs and hips. Keep your back straight and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Move straight up and down. Avoid lifting and twisting simultaneously. If the object is too heavy or awkward, get a lifting partner.
- Sleep on your side
It’s better to sleep on one side of your body to maintain the straightness of your back. Sleeping on a firm mattress will ensure the curvature of your back is properly maintained. The most important thing is to constantly prevent your back from curving for a long time.
- Choose footwear wisely
Wear comfortable shoes that do not put a strain on your back. High heels may look great for women who want to make a fashion statement, but they put a big stress on the back. Make sure not to wear them every day.