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More information on healthy backs

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Here's some general information on back pain:

Q: Who can get back pain?

A: More than 80 percent of people report back pain; physicians and chiropractors believe those who don't report pain just live with it.

Q: What's the cause?

A: Back pain can come from your occupation, your weight, your hobby, your family tree or any combination of these factors:

Work that requires lifting and twisting.

Work that requires sitting for long periods without stretching.

Inactivity and obesity, which often go hand in hand. Even athletic people can be inactive at work, sitting hours at a time in terrible positions. Couple that with obesity and the back is in trouble.

Q: Why the back?

A: The spine is a weight-bearing part of the body, built with shock-absorbing discs and a shock-absorbing design - the S shape. Chiropractors say pain can come from muscles trying to pull the spine back into its proper shape after it gets out of alignment.

Ann Hayes, associate professor of physical therapy with St. Louis University, said that over the years, the discs get old and harden, then break, rupture, expand and put pressure on nerves in the spinal column.

The pain also can stem from cracked vertebrae and other degenerative problems that could come from lack of calcium or years of misuse. In addition, muscles can get injured or overstressed.

Chiropractor Ralph Barrale said the knot in a muscle, or a muscle spasm, is the body's way of locking a muscle in place so it and the joint can't be used while the system heals.

Sometimes the pain comes from more serious causes: infections of organs, organ failure or cancer near or in the back. That's why physicians want a diagnosis.

Q: What's the treatment?

A: Treatment ranges from advice on exercise and lifestyle to ice and heat, spinal manipulation by a chiropractor, exercises by a physical therapist, over-the-counter painkillers, prescription painkillers and shots. The extreme remedy, surgery, is for incapacitating pain. Backache clinics often have success with patients because the clinics deal with backaches exclusively.

Q: What can you do to prevent back pain?

A: Back pain can be delayed, but people who pay the most attention to their posture, exercise and weight still can have recurring back pain.

SOURCES: Dr. Michael Cannon, associate professor of family medicine with St. Louis University School of Medicine; Dr. Ralph Barrale, dean of graduate studies with the Logan College of Chiropractic; Ann Hayes, associate professor of physical therapy with St. Louis University; National Institutes of Health



The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke suggests:

-Stretch before you exercise or do other strenuous physical activity.

-Don't slouch when you stand or sit.

-When standing, keep your weight balanced on your feet. Your back supports weight most easily when spinal curvature is reduced.

-Make sure your workspaces are suitable for you and don't require straining to use them.

-Sit in a chair with good lower-back support and proper position and height for your work. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of your back can provide support. If you must sit for a long period of time, rest your feet on a low stool or a stack of books.

-Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension.

-Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes.

-Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine. Always sleep on a firm surface.

-If you are a caregiver, ask for help when moving an ill or injured family member from a reclining to a sitting position or when transferring the person from a chair to a bed.

-Don't try to lift objects too heavy for you.

-When lifting something, lift with your knees, pull in your stomach muscles and keep your head down and in line with your straight back. Keep the object close to your body. Do not twist when lifting.

-Keep your weight down.

-Eat a diet sufficient in calcium, phosphorus and vitamin D to help promote new bone growth.

-Don't smoke. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.



For more information:

These Web sites offer a variety of information, including how to find a physician or other health professional. Some offer studies and history.

American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons

American Association of Neurological Surgeons

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons

American Academy of Family Physicians

American Chiropractic Association

American Chronic Pain Association (ACPA)

American Pain Foundation

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


(c) 2004, St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.


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