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Healthy Geezer

Back pain affects eight out of 10 people

By Fred Cicetti | May 21, 2014

Q. How common is back pain?

Back pain affects about eight out of 10 people. Back pain becomes more common with age.

Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit. Weak back and abdominal muscles may not properly support the spine. If you’re sedentary most of the time and then exert yourself on rare occasions, you are more likely to injure your back than someone who exercises daily.

If you’re carrying a big belly, you put added stress on the muscles in your lower back and are a candidate for agony.

Your job can be a major influence on back health. If your work requires heavy lifting or sitting all day, you risk hurting your back. Many sanitation workers and writers suffer from back troubles.

Mechanical problems can cause back pain. Perhaps the most common mechanical cause of back pain is disc degeneration. The cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spine break down with age.

If there is stress on these compromised discs, they press against spinal nerves and you may experience what feels like a toothache in a buttock. At almost any age, an injury can force these discs to bulge or rupture, causing the same kind of pain.

Q. Do you have any tips for avoiding back pain?

A program of regular low-impact exercise such as walking, swimming, or riding a bike - mobile or stationary - will be beneficial. Yoga can also help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Ask your doctor for a list of exercises appropriate for your age and physical condition.

Here are some quick pointers to prevent back problems:

• Don’t slouch when standing or sitting. When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Curvature of the spine puts stress on back muscles.

• Sit in chairs or car seats with good lumbar support. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension.

• Don’t bend over without supporting your back. For example, don’t lean over a low sink without bracing yourself with your hand. Also, don’t reach and lift an object out of a car trunk; first slide the object to the edge of the trunk.

• Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

• Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.

• Don’t try to lift objects too heavy for you. Lift with your legs, keeping your back straight. Keep the object close to your body. Do not twist when lifting.

• Try to control your weight, especially weight around the waistline that taxes lower back muscles.

Q. Are there some non-surgical treatments for chronic back pain?

• Hot or cold packs can be soothing.

• Medications are used to treat chronic back pain. These include over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, prescription narcotics such as oxycodone, topical analgesics such as Ben Gay, muscle relaxants, and certain antidepressants.

• Traction, which employs pulleys and weights to stretch the back, pulls the vertebrae apart to allow a bulging disc to slip back into place.

• Injections into nerves, spinal joints or specific areas of pain.

• Spinal manipulation refers to procedures in which professionals use their hands to treat the spine or surrounding tissues.

• Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation involves wearing a small box over the painful area that directs mild electrical impulses to nerves there.

• Acupuncture, which involves the insertion of thin needles at precise locations, is used to relieve pain.

• In acupressure, no needles are used. Instead, a therapist applies pressure to points with hands, elbows, or even feet.

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