CARVILLE: Your aching back
It is estimated that 80 percent of the population will suffer low back pain during their lifetimes and that 5 percent will develop chronic problems which will severely affect their quality of life and job performance.
I have had several severe episodes myself over the years. I remember plodding up Mt. Whitney in the winter snow with Mike, my son, years ago. We were setting a food cache for a winter ski traverse that Mike was going to make from Squaw Valley to Mt. Whitney in February. It is called the ‘Red Line’ traverse.
We hiked up, ‘post-holing’ in the snow up to our hips — hours of that misery. When we finished and finally got down to Lone Pine, I was exhausted and could feel pain as my back muscles tightened up. By dinner time I had to use a ski pole as a cane to walk. By bed time I could not walk — excruciating pain — and had to crawl to the bathroom.
Luckily for me this episode was temporary but for many people this condition is chronic.
Millions of Victims
The number of persons afflicted with back pain is hard to quantify, but the University of Washington estimates that 31 million Americans suffer from Lower Back Pain (LBP) and that it is the single leading cause of disability. The cost in lost work and wages totals between $560-635 billion per year.
There are different types of back pain which can be either chronic or acute.
Musculoskeletal (also called Lumbago) pain without structural problems or nerve involvement.
Mechanical back pain which is related to the bony anatomy of the spine such as arthritis and joint inflammation.
Nerve pain (radiculopathy) which is related to bulging, herniated or degenerative discs in the spine.
Lumbar stenosis which is related to joint arthritis in the back.
If you have back pain, first see your physician to diagnose the issue. Depending upon your condition the treatment modalities are many: bed rest, pharmaceuticals, physical therapy, surgery and/or exercising with programs aimed toward general conditioning, flexibility and core strengthening.
Once cleared by your doctor, exercise is often the best cure. While many people are afraid to move fearing that movement will cause more pain, once you are conditioned, the opposite is true. This fear of movement is called kinesiophobia.
Your body is a magnificent machine. It needs to be maintained and flexed every day. When you don’t maintain it in this way, it develops weaknesses which can result in skeletal imbalances and bad posture. Your body is no longer in balance and your spine is often the place where the pain is manifested, i.e. back pain.
Avoid the Problem
Exercise can be the cure but also the prevention. Unfortunately, there is an exercise misconception that ‘strong abs’ is the answer. But the overemphasis of classic abdominal exercises can exacerbate the problem. General core conditioning is more productive than a focus only on ‘six-pack abs.’
Think the plank position, core contraction and stabilization, all resistance exercises. Think glute strengthening and rotational exercises. For example, lengthening the hip flexor reduces stress on the attachment muscles at the lower back.
Other prevention modalities are meditation, tai chi, yoga, swimming, massage, dance and all exercise classes that emphasize movement and flexibility.
Back pain is more commonly a problem associated with aging. As we get older, we often justify moving less and postponing exercise. Regardless of your age, get out there and exercise. You’re 70? So what … your biological body can grow younger so you feel like 50. Just do it!
Remember what Yogi Berra said, “We make too many wrong mistakes.” Go exercise. Stop making ‘wrong mistakes.’
Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to respond to questions or comments. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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