Spine Care: Getting Back to Health

It is the second-most common cause of a visit to the doctor after the common cold: back pain. And back pain is a top disabling health condition among adults 60 years of age and older.

This week, Oct. 7-11, marks Backcare Awareness Week. A crucial first step toward recovering from back pain is to recognize when to see a doctor. Is it a mild strain from over-doing-it at work or play, or is it something more serious? When should you see a doctor about back pain?

“If the pain does not diminish and movement remains restricted or if there is neurological impairment, then a visit to the doctor is recommended,” said Ronald Tolchin, D.O., medical director of the Baptist Health Center for Spine Care, part of Baptist Health Neuroscience Center.

Regular stretching, strengthening and aerobic exercises can help reduce chronic or temporary back pain for many people. However, over-straining the back from too much or improper exercise could do more harm than good. Physical therapy ordered by your doctor can get back pain sufferers started on the right path, Dr. Tolchin says.

Prevalence of Back Pain

Knowing the facts about physical therapy, and proper posture and exercises, are crucial to overcoming chronic back conditions. These statistics on the prevalence back pain are striking:

  • About 80 percent of the adult population will experience an episode of low back pain.
  • More than half of Americans live with chronic or recurrent pain.
  • Back pain is one of the leading causes of recurrent or persistent pain.
  • About 4 in 10 Americans report that back pain interferes with their mood, activities, sleep, ability to do work or enjoyment of life.
Avoiding Some Causes of Back Pain

Most back pain can be avoided or minimized if you are active and avoid positions and activities that may increase or cause pain — including lifting heavy objects improperly, bad posture at your computer workstation or sleeping positions on mattresses that contribute to chronic aches or pain.

Regular exercise can help reduce overall strain on the lower back. A commitment to fitness also helps you recover faster from injuries.

“Exercise increases the blood flow to the back, providing needed oxygen and nutrients,” said Dr. Tolchin. “Exercise also strengthens the muscles around the spine, taking pressure off the bones and other structures in the back.”

Excess weight is a contributor to back pain. To protect your back, it’s important to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) — a measurement that uses your height and weight to measure your body fat.

Excess weight puts more stress on the back. For example, if you are 50 pounds overweight, it’s like carrying a 50-pound weight around all day. That can fatigue your muscles and weaken your back.

Here are the top risk factors for bank pain:

Aging. Wear and tear on the spine over the years can produce conditions, such as disc degeneration and spinal stenosis, that produce neck and back pain. People 30 to 60 years old are more likely to have disc-related disorders, while those over age 60 are more likely to have pain related to osteoarthritis.

Genetics. Certain types of spinal disorders have a genetic component, including degenerative disc disease.

Occupational hazards. Any job that requires repetitive bending and lifting has a high incidence of back injury, such as construction workers. Jobs that require long hours of standing without a break or sitting in a chair that does not support the back well also puts the person at greater risk.

Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of regular exercise increases risks for occurrence of lower back pain and increases the likely severity of the pain.

Excess weight. Being overweight increases stress on the lower back.

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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