There are about 30 bones in the back, so it’s no wonder that things go wrong every now and then. In fact, back pain is cited as the top reason employees miss work and the second-most common reason for visits to the doctor.
Dr. Rubin Bashir, assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, is a back expert and has some helpful tips to understand and avoid back pain.
Back pain can be acute or chronic. It can be more difficult to determine the cause of chronic pain, the type of pain that lasts more than three months and slowly gets worse. Bashir said there are some typical culprits for acute back pain. These include sports injuries, car accidents and strain from working around the house and yard.
Whatever the cause of back pain, there are contributing factors that can make it worse., things like aging, obesity, smoking, poor posture and poor sleeping position.
“Don’t smoke, don’t smoke, don’t smoke,” Bashir emphasized. “There are so many reasons to not smoke, and here’s another one. It reduces blood flow to the spine and causes disc degeneration.”
Other tips for back health include:
- Don’t slouch
- Sleep on your side, with a pillow between the legs for the best spine position
- Don’t lift things that are too heavy for you to handle; use your knees and don’t pick something up and twist in one motion
- Maintain a healthy weight and proper nutrition
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
- Exercise regularly
If you are experiencing back pain, Bashir says not to spend too much time lying around to rest your back.
“Don’t spend too much time in bed with back pain. Get up and walk around,” he said.
Regular exercise speeds recovery and, in the long, run, it’s the most effective way to keep your back healthy. Good options are walking, swimming and stretching.
What other treatments might help? If your stomach can tolerate it, take over-the-counter pain relievers like as Advil or Aleve.
If other things provide relief – such as chiropractics, acupuncture or ointments such as Bengay, Bashir says to use them, noting the science behind those measures aren’t clear.
There’s also no proof that ice and/or heat works but, again, Bashir said if it makes you feel better, do it – just don’t sleep on a heating pad.
For some people, surgery is an option. There are many different procedures, depending on what type of pain you’re experiencing and the reason for it, and they can be very effective, Bashir said.