The Commercial Appeal (2007--Current)
What you should know…
Our backs get a lot of wear and tear throughout life. As youths we might have endured sports injuries, jolts from jumping, or accidents. As we age, many of us also have back deterioration from arthritis, poor posture, tension, or diseases such as diabetes or cancer. More than half of people older than 65 have some arthritis.
General fitness is vital for good back health. Good muscle tone in the abdomen and tissue around the spine is especially important. Risks of spine problems increase if a person weighs too little or too much or has had a poor diet lacking calcium and vitamin D. Many experts also think smoking and excess alcohol can harm our spines.
Our spine is made up of a stack of 33 bones. Our vertebrae stretch from our skull down through our pelvis. Bone loss and injuries can cause one or more vertebrae to break (fracture). When one or more vertebrae break, pressure is put on the other vertebrae and surrounding tissue.
As we age, our risk of bone loss tends to rise. Many people do not have symptoms at first. Bone loss and breaks are often discovered in people over 50 years old after medical imaging, such as an X--ray, MRI, CT scan or DEXA scan. People with injuries, a curved spine, cancer, or who are considering surgery might also need special imaging.
By age 80, about 40 percent of women have had one or more vertebral compression fractures. Fractures can cause a hunched position sometimes known as a dowager's hump (kyphosis from osteopenia). Kyphosis can be mild, but severe osteoporosis can be debilitating. The hunched position can cause a person's height to shrink. The hunched position can also affect body functions -- breathing, digestion, strength and coordination in limbs, and continence.
Surprisingly, a fractured vertebra can be caused by something as simple as coughing, picking up a child or grocery bag, or moving in a bed or tub. Slips and falls are also big causes of fractures. Fractures can cause pain in the neck, lower back or pelvis. If a nerve is pinched, the pain can be excruciating.
Back pain affects more than 65 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Behaviors causing spine problems might include prolonged sitting, lifting or twisting with a curved back, being overweight, inactivity or improper carrying.
Most back pain simply goes away over one to four weeks. Chronic back pain often benefits from lifestyle changes, consistent physical activity and exercise. Other helpful techniques include proper back care and posture, medication for depression (tricyclic anti-depressant), spinal manipulation, therapy, massage, acupuncture, counseling, relaxation techniques and intensive rehabilitation. Stretching to relieve tight muscles also helps.
Pain that won't go away may need evaluation by a professional. Surgery and medications can be risky and can have side effects. Spinal injections for pain sometimes are no more effective than placebos. Intensive rehabilitation is often more effective than surgery.
What you should do…
Find the true cause of your back injury and pain. Solutions depend on the causes. See a professional to find solutions to chronic pain and vertebrae problems. Your doctor might recommend a bone-building medication.
Remain active while avoiding things that make back problems worse. Consider applying heat or using medicines, such as ibuprofen, aspirin and Tylenol. Sometimes spinal manipulation, muscle relaxants or painkillers can help.
Avoid back problems in the first place. Get plenty of calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Stay fit, and keep the muscles that support your back and head in good shape. Important muscles include those in your stomach, buttocks, back, shoulders and neck. Lose excess weight that puts stress on your spine. Maintain good posture.
Be smart about how you lift and carry. Use your strong leg muscles. Balance packages with handles in both hands to carry weight evenly on both sides of your spine. Don't carry a heavy backpack or purse on one shoulder.
Use extra care when lifting loads especially if you have had a previous back injury. People with previous injuries are often at high risk of another back injury. Better conditioning and muscle tone can often prevent future injury.
Learn special exercises like yoga or tai chi. Do stretching exercises every day.
Be good to yourself. Muscles or ligaments can relax with warm baths, a heating pad, or a massage.
Use products that support your back. Use a pillow and bed that keep your spine and head in the right position. Wear shoes that give proper support and cushioning. Use chair cushions that support your spine.
For more information…
See compression fractures of the back at nlm.nih. gov/ medlineplus/ency/article/ 000443.htm.
Better Health: Take Charge! is provided by the Healthy Memphis Common Table: www.healthymemphis.org. This article supports the care and advice of your doctor.
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