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Spine and Back Pain FAQ

How can I prevent back pain?

Practicing proper body mechanics and improving your physical condition can help prevent back pain. You can also keep your back healthy and strong by:

  • Exercising

Regimens that include conditioning and strengthening exercises can help prevent and reduce back pain. Exercising your core muscles—those in your abdomen and back—strengthens them and can help prevent back pain.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Excess weight strongly contributes to back pain and almost all other conditions affecting the spine. If you are currently overweight, trimming down can help ease your back pain.

  • Maintaining proper posture 

Keep your pelvis in a neutral position. If you need to stand for long periods, alternate placing a foot on a low stool to take some of the pressure off your lower back. When sitting, look for seats with good lower back support, arm rests and a swivel base. Consider placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back to maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level.

  • Practicing safe lifting 

When you lift large or heavy objects, keep your back straight and bend only your knees. Hold the load close to your body and avoid lifting and twisting at the same time.

  • Sleeping properly

Medium-firm to firm mattresses can help people with back pain. If you sleep on your side, try putting a pillow between your knees. If you sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees. You can use a small rolled towel to support your lower back.

When should you consult your physician about back pain?

See your physician if you experience any of the following:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Pain as the result of a fall or injury
  • Severe pain that doesn’t improve with medications and rest
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in your leg or arm
  • Urinary or bowel dysfunction

Any of these symptoms are signals of a serious problem requiring treatment.

When is surgery necessary for patients with spine problems?

Most back problems respond to conservative treatments, including anti-inflammatory medication, hot or cold therapy, gentle massage and physical therapy.

When conservative treatments don’t alleviate the pain, other therapies may be used, including: epidural steroids, injections, joint and nerve blocks, and medications. If interventional therapy does not help, back surgery may be considered as a last resort.

Surgery may be appropriate for patients experiencing severe pain or when there is a significant neurological impairment, such as muscle weakness, a change in gait, or bowel and urinary dysfunction.

What are some nonsurgical treatments that relieve back pain?

Most neck or back pain improves over time with a combination of rest, pain relievers, massage and hot or cold therapy. If pain does not improve, physical therapy, exercise, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, cortisone injections or electrical stimulation can help.

Low doses of certain types of anti-\depressants also have been shown to relieve pain. Other alternatives for pain relief may be used for a short period of time under your physician’s supervision. These treatments may include anesthetic injections or self-administered pain medications that are delivered to the spinal cord through a programmable pump.

What is a herniated disc?

A herniated disc is a “slipped” or “ruptured” disc in the neck or lower back, which can result in pain in the neck, lower back, arms or legs.

Disc herniations can be caused by auto accidents, falls and injuries from heavy lifting. Herniations also can be caused by repetitive activities or minor injuries. Most commonly, however, disc herniations are not caused by any particular injury or event.

Most herniated discs improve with rest, anti-inflammatory medications, steroids and physical therapy. If those treatments fail, physicians may recommend a minimally invasive surgery that involves shaving the disc to relieve pressure on an adjacent nerve.

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