Back Is Killing Me!
Ever since evolution brought humans onto their feet, people
have had back pains. One occupational health doctor estimates
that two-thirds of industrial workers, and more than one-half
of all office workers, have suffered at least one back injury
by age 65.
About 85 percent of the patients this doctor sees
for back problems have strained muscles in their "lumbar"
region-the lower back. Lower back pain, he says, is usually
set off by a specific movement at a specific moment in time.
Lifting, falling, or trying to catch or break the fall of
an object are the most common actions that cause such an injury.
At that instant, the person may feel a snap, a popping sensation,
nothing at all, or immediate agony.
Being in a hurry is a major element in back injury
cases, this occupational health expert has found. If workers
will take the time to get a forklift instead of trying to
pick up the too-heavy object, or will get the ladder instead
of just reaching for something too high, a possible injury
can be avoided.
Understanding your spine can also help. The spinal
column is constructed of 24 connected segments of bone and
cartilage called vertebrae. It provides structural stability
for the body. Spongy discs between the vertebrae cushion
the bones while also bonding them together and providing the
mobility that allows twisting, bending, and flexing movements.
Holding the vertebrae together, too, are muscles and ligaments.
Within the bone and protected by it is the spinal cord; major
nerves pass through spaces between the vertebrae to this control
center of the nervous system.
Back problems frequently come about when the springy
disc material between the bones of the spine loses some of
its bounce. This can happen simply as part of the aging process.
Then, when this less-than-resilient disc is stressed by some
particular movement, the disc may bulge or even break, with
spongy tissue spilling out. This "herniated" disc now may
press on an adjacent nerve, causing pain, numbness, tingling,
or painful muscle spasm. This problem also occurs most often
in the lumbar region.
Protecting your back from injury includes such
. Lifting properly with your legs
. Sitting and standing upright without slouching
. Choosing a driving position with knees
slightly bent and back arched
. Staying slim (for less stress on the lower
. Sleeping on your back, with a cushion under
the knees, or on your side
. Taking breaks from any position that must
be maintained for periods of time.
Good back pain prevention also includes conditioning
exercise. Your goals are to improve flexibility of the back
(swimming and walking are great for this) and to strengthen
both back and stomach muscles, to provide proper back support.
For those who do have an injury that results in
acute back pain, physicians advise: Stop. Get into bed for
the first terribly painful period. You may want to use ice
to reduce swelling or heat to ease muscles. Anti-inflammatory
medication or muscle relaxers given to you by your doctor
will help muscle spasms, too. If your mattress is too soft,
add a board underneath.
Once this phase passes, in from one to five days,
you should be able to move again, although in easy ways.
In fact, it's important that you do begin to move at this
point, to increase flexibility and strength. Allow discomfort
and your good sense to tell you how far you should go.
Long-term recovery may depend on your physician's
help and adhering to the preventive measures already mentioned.
Doesn't this emphasize how much smarter-and more comfortable-you'll
be by taking those preventive steps in the first place?