How to avoid back problems

When traveling

  • If you have had back pain and you travel by airplane: Don't sit in the seat for more than one hour at a time. Get up and walk around.
  • Try to get an aisle seat so you can stretch your legs and get up.
  • Be careful removing your bag from the over head rack. If possible check your bags.
  • Take two small bags rather than one large one. They should not weigh more than 20 lbs each.
  • Be careful lifting them off of the luggage carousel. Get help if possible.
  • Be careful lifting your bag into and out of your car.
  • Get a portable neck support for long flights. It will help prevent neck injury.

At home

  • Be careful in the garden. Lifting heavy plants may injure your back.
  • Bending over for more than 2 hours may cause back or neck injury.
  • Digging in the garden with a shovel may cause back injury. (Hire someone to help.)
  • Bending over to wash the floors, vacuuming, lifting heavy objects out of kitchen cabinets may cause back injury.
  • Home improvement projects are especially dangerous.
  • Climbing a ladder and reaching may injure your back or neck.
  • Reaching with a paint brush or working with your arms overhead may strain your neck.

Weekend sports

  • Golf is especially strenuous on the back. Stretch before playing. Ease up on your swing. You will score higher anyway.
  • Tennis is easier on your back, consider playing doubles.
  • Softball may be more dangerous. Overswinging, or falling may cause back injury.
  • Hiking, swimming, bicycling are better for your back.
  • In the gym, avoid overhead weights.
  • Stay away from back exercise machines, they concentrate stress on the intervertebral discs and may cause injury.
  • Stay away from rowing machines.
  • Consider doing abdominal crunches rather than sit-ups. Repetitive bending at the waist may be harmful.
  • Try an elliptical trainer rather than a treadmill or jogging. There is less impact on the spine.
  • Wear a cushioned athletic shoe with a good arch support.


  • Stay fit, avoid gaining excess weight, it puts more stress on your spine.
  • Wear shoes with soft soles if possible to cushion your spine.
  • If you have a back condition, avoid high heals, they accentuate the curvature of the lumbar spine and may cause unnecessary stress.
  • Sit in a firm chair with arms, rather than a sofa.
  • When sitting put a stool under your feet to raise your knees higher than your hips.
  • Don't sit for more than an hour at a time.
  • Don't sit with your head down looking at your computer screen. Arrange your work station so your head and neck are in a neutral position.
  • When driving your car, put the seat as close to the wheel as possible. It takes stress off of your neck and back.
  • Many cars come with lumbar supports.
  • If you have a sudden attack of back pain, don't panic.

If the pain does not radiate down your leg it is probably not serious.

  • You will probably be over it in a week or two.
  • Rest, avoid unnecessary bending, lifting, or twisting. Use ice for severe pain.
  • Take Advil. The body will have to heal the injured part.
  • You cannot push or pull anything back into place.

      To reach Dr. Light for an appointment, call 415-673-4500.

      About Dr. Kenneth Light
      Dr. Kenneth Light has always sought challenge, from his early days at Cornell University College of Medicine to founder and director of the San Francisco Spine Center. He is currently in private practice in spinal reconstructive surgery in San Francisco.

      Dr. Light specializes in cases considered "hopeless," cases so severe that other physicians consider them beyond treatment. "Never give up hope" is Dr. Light's motto. "I don't believe in giving up on patients until I've tried everything possible to help them," he says. "When you're affecting the way people live their lives, you can't justify doing anything less."

      The results of his passion for excellence are often dramatic. People with cancer of the spine who are unable to walk can be stabilized and made functional. Bedridden patients can walk again. People whose lifestyles - and livelihoods - have been drastically curtailed can resume normal lives.

      Dr. Light's lifelong interest in athletics led him to specialize in the challenging area of orthopedic surgery because it involves restoring body movement." It's a happy specialty," he says, "It provides dramatic results in a short time. When you can take someone who can't walk and make them walk again, it gives enormous personal satisfaction."

      When Dr. Light first entered practice with Dr. William Jensen in l980, after residencies and internships at seven California hospitals, he was concerned about the number of patients with chronic back problems that no one had been able to help. "I just couldn't believe all these people would come to the office telling me about the same problems, and no one could do anything for them," he says. "Patients who had prior surgery were really in trouble; no one would see them."

      This concern for patients, combined with his love of challenge, led him to the State University of New York at Buffalo in l984, where he received a fellowship to study with renowned spine surgeon Dr. Edward Simmons. He is one of 35 surgeons trained with Dr. Simmons in advanced procedures that allow surgeons to treat a variety of spinal disorders safely and effectively.

      Dr. Light returned to San Francisco in l985, filled with new excitement about his knowledge that would allow him to help even the most hopeless cases using the Simmons Technique. Other physicians began referring their most difficult patients to him. Patients with nowhere to turn had finally found someone to champion their cause. "We don't look at any problem as impossible," Dr. Light notes. "Although not all patients can be helped, we want to evaluate each one, and many can be restored to a normal life."

      Dr. Light sought a way to expand availability of premier back care to more people. His dream was to build a state-of-the-art medical facility where he founded and was medical director of The San Francisco Spine Center in 1992 to 2006, where people could receive diagnosis and treatment of the simplest to the most complex spinal disorders.

      Currently Dr. Light is in private practice in San Francisco where he specializes in spinal surgery and remains exceptionally interested in patients who have had failed surgery.

      His newest project is in finding ways to preserve motion of the spine with disc replacement surgery and is the principal investigator in a study involving 37 patients who have undergone single and multi disc replacements.

      All of these goals touch Dr. Light's personal philosophy, "We'll do everything humanly possible to give each patient the best care we can."

      Dr. Light lives in Marin County.

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