Back pain is literally a pain in the neck, if you’ll excuse the play on words. How many people suffer from an aching back? Now backs aren’t the only things that hurt. What about knees and finger joints. Here is something to think about: 100 million Americans suffer from chronic joint pain. I can tell you that back pain is so prevalent that it ranks in the top 5 of common reasons people see the doctor. As a nurse who has chronic back pain, I can tell you that an aching back is no fun. (Nurses and nurses’ assistants are at high risk for back injuries because of lifting patients, stretching in the OR to reach the equipment, and walking the halls non-stop. In spite of that, I wouldn’t give up nursing career. It’s what I love.)
With this in mind, you do not have to be a nurse to injure or strain your back. As with many joint pain issues, the source of the problem is repetitive strain. That doesn’t mean an odd occurrence can’t cause an injury. Trust me, if you fall off a ladder, it’s going to hurt. But a lot of back pain comes from repetitive movements and poor posture. Back pain is very common in older adults, as increasing age, a lifetime of poor posture and improper bending, and wear and tear affect the spine. But, back pain is very treatable and a lot of problems can be prevented. I’ll tell you how.
Dr. Sheth, MD, assistant professor of rehab and director of spinal intervention at Mount Sinai, says, the important thing to do is treat the root cause of the pain. He advises that people try simpler approaches that running right for spine surgery. He advises, “One should always try conservative care first. Modifying the way you use your body and strengthening the muscles that support your back can help ease discomfort, and prevent the progression of chronic disability.”
The spine is made up of the spinal bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, and discs. The discs are the shock absorbers of the spine. The spinal bones help protect the spinal nerves from damage. Because of all these important structures, there are numerous mechanisms of injury. Did you know that walking upright is not really advantageous to our backs? Just the weight of our upper body puts a strain on the spinal bones. I don’t know about you, but I would rather have the risk of walking upright, than on all fours. Walking on all fours would limit the amount of time we could comfortably look up and see where we are going. Besides that it would not look very attractive to have my rather ample hiney sticking out. Easier to kick! Yowsa!
Ladies, we unfortunately have an additional concern that can weaken our bones. Osteoporosis. Prevention: getting enough calcium. Women ages 19 to 50 should get 1000 mg of calcium per day. Ladies 51 and above should consume 1200 mg per day. Caution: many of us can get enough calcium from our diets. Milk, yogurt, and cheese are good sources. Do not rush out to get a supplement unless you are not getting enough calcium in your diet. Adding a calcium supplement to an already adequate intake of natural food calcium can lead to a very painful problem – kidney stones. (Believe me when I tell you the pain is awful. I’ve had kidney stones twice. I truthfully would rather have had a baby. For all that pain, a chunk of calcium is not a prize. Once I gave up my calcium supplements I have not had a kidney stone since. I am a milk and yogurt eater and I get enough calcium in my diet.)
Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, what can we do to keep our spines (and knees) in good shape? Strengthen your core muscles that support your spine and improve your body mechanics. Body mechanics involves your posture, the way you move, bend, and lift things. Avoid sitting for prolonged periods in a slump position as this places stress on your spine. Strengthen the muscles by doing a couple simple exercises or swim in a heated pool. Pilates and yoga are great for controlled movements that strengthen muscles and promote more body awareness. Bicycle crunches are a simple at home exercise you can do to improve abdominal muscles strength. The Camel Hump back exercise has really been a help to me in preventing and treating the pain. Stop bending over to pick things up or load the dishwasher, etc., by bending at the waist. Use those awesome knees you were given to squat and pick things up. Carry heavy objects close to your body. Don’t lift heavy or unwieldy items alone. Lose extra weight which puts strain on your back and your knees. (So much easier to say than do.) Did you know that for every pound you are overweight, you put 5 extra pounds of pressure on your knees? Ouch!
In the event of back pain, contact your doctor if the pain is getting worse and isn’t relieved by changing positions or resting. Make sure you don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you develop sharp, electrical pain down the back of your legs, foot numbness, difficulty with your bowel and bladder along with the back pain. Rarely back pain can be a sign of other problems. Your doctor may recommend massage, visits to the chiropractor, or the acupuncturist.
In my experience talking with nurses who have back problems, once you injure your back you are more prone to further recurrences of back pain. The best thing is to start now using healthful strategies to strengthen your back and prevent injury.
Stay safe and healthy!
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