Think you’re stuck with back pain? Here’s how to put it behind you
Your favorite sitcom character is just about to go to a job interview … propose to his girlfriend … enter a dance contest … when “crack!” he throws his back out. Sure, it makes for entertaining television, but for most of us back pain isn’t funny—and rarely is it resolved in 23 minutes. But one thing the sitcoms get right is its prevalence.
“Back pain is incredibly common,” says Robert Johnson, DO, a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon with the Idaho Back Institute at Bingham Memorial Hospital (BMH). “About 80 percent of all people will have it at some point in their lives.”
It affects both men and women, and your risk increases with age. “By the time we’re 50, most of us will have experienced several episodes of back pain,” says Dr. Johnson. “It can originate in the bony structures, ligaments, muscles, disks, and nerves.”
Causes and Effects
As with many types of pain, there is no single cause of back pain. It can result from an injury, a muscle strain, a slipped or bulging disk, obesity, smoking, stress, poor posture, arthritis, or a number of other causes.
“In adults, back pain is often brought on by people sitting at their desks for long periods of time and repetitive stress,” Dr. Johnson says. “As people age, it becomes more and more common, especially when arthritis is involved.”
The good news is that back pain doesn’t always require intervention. “Most simple back pain problems will spontaneously resolve or go away with conservative measures,” Dr. Johnson says. “Only a few percent of cases will eventually require surgery.”
Turn It Around
The key to today’s treatment of back pain may be the opposite of your instincts. “In the past, it was recommended that patients have prolonged bed rest, but we now know that does more harm than good,” Dr. Johnson says.
“It’s actually best to keep moving, especially with walking and swimming.”
Other conservative treatments that offer relief, he notes, include anti-inflammatory medications, temporary support such as with a back brace, physical therapy, stretches, and exercises to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, and spinal injections.
Get Past the Pain
You learned long ago that stepping on a crack won’t break your back, but there are certain activities you do every day that can cause pain. Here are some tips for staying pain-free during these common actions.
Back-breaker: Doing so for long periods.
Spinal tip: “The stress of standing is partly absorbed by your legs, but when sitting, the weight has nowhere to go except for on your spine,” Dr. Johnson says. When you are seated, sit up straight, leaning forward a bit by bending slightly at the waist. Keep your shoulders back as to not hunch over.
Back-breaker: Lying on your stomach.
Spinal tip: Sleep on your back or side, Dr. Johnson recommends. When on your back, put pillows under your knees, and when on your side, sleep with a pillow between your knees.
Activity: Heavy lifting
Back-breaker: Bending at the waist and reaching far out in front.
Spinal tip: Bend at the knees and use your legs to lift. Keep the weight as close to your body as possible.
Back-breaker: Sitting stiff for prolonged stretches.
Spinal tip: When you are driving, move your seat close enough to the wheel that your knees are bent, Dr. Johnson suggests. On longer trips, “get out and walk around every hour to hour and a half or so.”
Back-breaker: Hitting the course cold.
Spinal tip: Warm up with some hip and trunk rotations, Dr. Johnson says. For long-term benefits, exercise to strengthen your back muscles as well as your abdominal muscles, which help support your spine.
Suffering from neck or back pain?
About Robert Johnson, DO
Dr. Johnson is a fellowship-trained orthopedic spine surgeon, with the Idaho Back Institute at BMH, who treats people with a wide variety of spinal conditions of the neck and back. He specializes in several areas of spine surgery.
Bingham Memorial is among the world’s first hospitals to use a new tool in robot-guided spinal surgery—the Mazor X system. Dr. Johnson uses the Mazor X robotic equipment during spine surgery, and is one of the only physicians in the U.S. who has been trained to do so. Performing a robot-assisted spine surgery allows him to have greater precision and make smaller incisions, which translates into shorter hospital stays, better clinical outcomes, and faster return to everyday activities.
He welcomes patients in Idaho Falls, Blackfoot, and Pocatello. If you’re suffering from chronic neck or back pain, call (208) 235-2277 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Johnson. Se habla Español
Our content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.