Welcome to another edition of the Doctor’s Note, where we talk about what’s on our minds when it comes to your health.
This week, we’re going to talk about back pain. I’ve experienced back pain a lot recently and for the last couple of years, and it’s just very common. Especially as we age.
Here’s some statistics to get us started: 50% of all Americans will experience back pain this year. This is something that costs around $150 billion a year, and around 264 million lost workdays. 80% of Americans have back pain during their lifetime.
Most of us will experience back pain.
This past year I had to get an MRI of my back. Like most people my age, I have degenerating disk disease. I also have scoliosis. My back isn’t straight, and it also doesn’t have the proper curves in it.
I’ve had no major injuries that have caused this. It’s mostly because I’ve been active, I’m 65 years old, and I didn’t take preventative measures as early as I could have.
I’ve done lots of different things to help my back. I’ve gone to Chiropractors, seen Physical Therapists, and have consistently done exercises to strengthen my back.
Most of my back pain comes from me having a weak back.
What do I mean by that? Basically, it means that my back muscles haven’t been trained properly. My core muscles, legs, and back have been weakened over the years.
What are some causes of back pain?
- Lifting too much weight. Lifting with your back instead of your legs.
- Prolonged sitting. You know the phrase “sitting is the new smoking”. Sitting can be terrible for your back, and it’s a risk factor for all kinds of things. Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing does. Have you ever noticed after a long car trip your back is stiff when you first get out of the car?
- Bad sleeping positions. My back is stiffest in the morning. It takes me a while to get it loose. The best sleeping position is to sleep on your back with a pillow underneath your knees. I wish I could do this. It turns out that only 15% of people can. The second best position is on your side with a pillow in between your legs.
- Obesity. Carrying around a lot of weight puts too much pressure on your knees and your back.
- Inflammatory arthritis.
- Cancer. (This is rare, but happens. Prolonged lower back pain that’s unexplained needs to be looked into.)
Most back problems are mechanical and not life threatening. The back pain is simply caused by poor mechanics.
I sleep on my stomach, which is bad. A good mattress makes a huge difference. They say you want a hard stiff mattress. So pay attention to your mattress. My Dad used to tell me don’t skimp on your mattress and your shoes, because you’ll spend most of your lifetime in one or the other.
When do you see a doctor for this?
If your back pain persists for weeks or months. If it’s not better with NSAIDs, rest, ice, or heat. If the pain or numbness goes to your legs and feet you might have a disk problem or neuropathy.
If you can’t walk without pain, it’s helpful to get a plain X-Ray of the back to make sure you don’t have anything worse. I’ve done this and it’s interesting to see the way the nerves can be impinged like mine are.
- Proper sleeping position.
- NSAIDs. (I prefer Mobic once a day)
- Muscle relaxers
- Sometimes creams like CBD. This has helped my back.
- Staying away from inflammatory foods.
- Turmeric or Curcumin. This is a spice that helps with inflammation.
- Strengthen you back with exercises.
Core strength really helps with a weak back. You can do yoga, which is great. But be careful not to do a lot of forward flexion. If you do have back pain and want to do yoga, be sure to inform the instructor. You need to be careful if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Do the “knee to chest” exercise/stretch. I do this every morning before I get out of bed. There’s also supermans, which I love.
Running long distances seems to be tough for backs and joints.Walking, however, can be great for your back. As is swimming.
Infrared saunas and hot tubs can both be great for back pain.
There are lots of things that you can do. There are a lot more treatments like acupuncture, microneedling and heat. I have a personal stem unit that I use a lot.
One of the most practical things you can do is maintain good posture and strengthen your own core.
Back pain is a reason for a lot of doctor’s visits. It can be quite debilitating. If it’s acute and persistent, seek treatment.
It’s something I want you guys to start thinking about. There’s things you can do. Check your sleep patterns, posture, and avoid sitting for long periods of time.