How to avoid back pain

Sleep, sex, sitting-there is hardly any activity that isn't affected by the back. It's involved in almost everything we do. You can't get in and out of a car, run, jump or walk.

Until you have back pain, you don't realize everything that a back does for you. For most, back pain is only a temporary problem that can be alleviated with conservative (non-surgical) treatment such as rest, medication, physical therapy, spinal injections and the use of orthotics.

Patients suffering from chronic back pain that does not improve with conservative (non-surgical) treatment may require surgery.

9 Ways Keep Your Spine Feeling Fine according to Dr. Kenneth Light:

  1. Do an early morning stretch: It's a good idea to start the day stretching while they're still in bed," says Dr. Light. "Remember that you've been lying prone for eight hours, and if you jump right up, you may be looking at a sore back." So before you get up, slowly stretch your arms over your head, then gently pull your knees up to your chest one at a time. When you're ready to sit up, roll to the side of the bed and use your arm to help prop yourself up. Put your hands on your buttocks and slowly lean back to extend your spine.

  2. Walk: Walking and other aerobic exercises such as swimming, biking and running keep your back healthy by conditioning your whole body. They strengthen the postural muscles of the buttocks, legs, back and abdomen. Try doing an aerobic workout for 20 minutes a day, three times a week.

  3. Take breaks from constant sitting: Sitting puts more strain on your back than standing. If you must sit at your desk for an extended time or you're traveling, change position often and give your back a break by standing up and walking around every hour or so.

  4. Kneel, don't bend: Avoid bending over at the waist to pick up something. That creates tension in the back and increases your risk of injury. Instead, use long-handled tools and kneel on a cushion or knee pad to garden, vacuum or do other "low-level" activities.

  5. Let your legs do the work: If you're lifting something--no matter if it weighs 5 pounds or 50--bend your knees, keep your back straight, and lift with your legs. The legs are much stronger than the back and can lift a lot more weight without strain

  6. Test the load: "How many of us have strained back muscles when we tried to pick up boxes that we thought were empty but were actually filled with encyclopedias?" asks Dr. Light. Always nudge a box with your foot or cautiously lift it an inch or so before really trying to heft it. If it's too heavy for you, ask for help.

  7. Straighten up: Maintaining good posture is one of the best ways to prevent back pain. To improve your posture, try this. Stand against a wall or sit in a dining room chair, making sure that your shoulders and buttocks touch the wall or your chair. Slip your arm into the space between your lower back and the wall or chair.

    If there is a point where your hand isn't touching both your back and the wall or chair, tilt your hips so that the extra space is eliminated. Hold that position for a count of 20 while looking in a mirror to see what your posture looks like. Do that exercise once a day for three weeks to ensure that good posture will become a habit.

  8. Don't be a heel: High heels change your gait, put additional stress on your lower back and adversely affect your posture. If you wear high heels on a daily basis try to wear them for no more than two hours at a time. Always have a pair of tennis shoes or flats available.

  9. Check your mattress: Your mattress should provide proper support, be level and not sag. But by far, the most common cause of back pain is muscle strain.
Lifting something when your back is out of shape is like someone pulling you out of the crowd at the New York Marathon and forcing you to run the 26-mile course. You're probably going to get hurt, because you're straining your back in ways that it's not prepared for.

Of course, even well-trained athletes can get back pain, but in general, the better conditioned you are, the less likely your spine will cause problems. See your doctor if the pain is so intense that you can't move, if it spreads to your legs or buttocks, if your legs or feet feel numb or tingly, or if you also have a fever or abdominal pain.

About Dr. Kenneth Light:

Dr. Kenneth Light graduated from the Cornell University College of Medicine in New York City . He completed his residency in Orthopedic Surgery at the University of California in San Francisco., and completed a fellowship in spinal surgery under the guidance of Edward H. Simmons at the State University of New York in Buffalo .

Dr. Light was director of the spine clinic at San Francisco General Hospital, and was founder and medical director of the San Francisco Spine Center at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgery, is board certified with the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery and Assistant Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at University of California, San Francisco. He is currently in private practice in San Francisco where he specializes in reconstructive surgery in patients who have had failed back surgery.

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