World Spine Day 2022: Vital Facts on Treating, Preventing Back and Neck Pain
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But after two and a half years of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has transformed work from the office environment to the home, back issues have immerged like never before – partly because of too much or improper sitting and a lack of physical activity.
An estimated 540 million people worldwide suffer low back pain at any one time, and it remains the leading cause of disability. In the U.S., back pain remains one of the most common reasons to visit a doctor. Issues with the cervical (neck) and lumbar spine also represent the top disabling health condition among adults 60 years of age and older.
What’s the most important message on World Spine Day? We asked Baptist Health experts to provide insights on this topic.
“The primary message is that spine health should not be looked at as an independent entity,” explains Jason Liounakos, M.D., a neurosurgeon specializing in disorders of the spine at Miami Neuroscience Institute, part of Baptist Health. “Instead, it should be considered an integral part of our overall health and well-being. By making small, measurable changes to various aspects of our lives, including increasing healthy habits and making lifestyle modifications, we not only contribute to our general health, but our spine health as well.”
Additionally, if pain or other discomforts extend to the limbs, it’s vital to see a specialist, explains Matthew Moore, M.D., director of integrated neurosurgery at Marcus Neuroscience Institute, established at Boca Raton Regional Hospital, part of Baptist Health.
“Spine-health and proper exercise with warm-ups should be a lifelong goal,” said Dr. Moore. “If new, unusual neck or arm pain — or tingling or back and leg pains – appear, it is always best to have an initial consult with a neurosurgical specialist who knows and understands the appropriate initial nonsurgical treatments to solve your problem. Cervical or lumbar MRI provides the quickest and most accurate underlying assessment of the problem.”
The majority patients with spinal issues are treated non-surgically — with physical therapy and “prescribed” lifestyle changes — for back or neck pain.
“Most patients are treated non-surgically with therapy and medication,” said Dr. Moore. “A close follow-up with your neurosurgeon is best to ensure complete resolution of your problem.”
Dr. Liounakos says “conservative management” is the cornerstone of any treatment plan. “This may include pain medication, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs), muscle relaxants, a short course of oral steroids, activity modification, bracing, physical therapy, and/or consultation with a physiatrist or pain management physician.”
If symptoms are particularly severe, they can be managed with interventional procedures, such as epidural steroid injections, he adds.
Here are more insights from both Dr. Liounakos and Dr. Moore.
Do most patients with spine issues understand the importance of regular exercise, weight management, and other lifestyle factors that contribute to spine health?
“The well-being of your spine is facilitated by healthy muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The health of these structures is largely dependent on good habits, such as being well-nourished with a balanced diet, regular exercise, stretching, maintaining good posture, keeping a healthy weight, and avoiding dangerous habits including smoking and excess alcohol. One issue for patients with spine issues is that it may be challenging to incorporate improvements in lifestyle factors when already burdened by significant pain and disability.”
“Spine problems can suddenly appear in both young and old out of the blue or even after what has been their “everyday’ activities. Ninety percent of all people will experience some form of spine problems, whether neck or back pain during their lifetime. After your first episode and recovery, most will continue an active lifestyle but become more ‘Spine aware’. Regular stretching, warm-ups and not pushing extreme limits is a practical guide. Even well-versed dedicated athletes will occasionally exceed their body tolerances and develop symptoms of neck or back pain.”
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