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For people with sedentary lifestyles (which is most of us), avoiding back pain can be as easy as exercising moderately and periodically walking around the office to promote blood flow. Our back pain expert gives valuable advice on how to prevent and treat this annoying ailment.
Nearly everyone has experienced minor-to-debilitating back pain at some point. Pain can develop over time or be triggered by an event, like lifting a heavy object and then feeling a twinge in you lower back. People with sedentary lifestyles – those who sit for most of the day – often develop lower back pain over time, as the weight of the upper body compresses discs and nerves in the lower part of the spine.
Frank Lorch, MD, of Sports Medicine & Injury Care, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, said prolonged sitting leads to “metabolic shutdown and genetic changes in the muscle,” which can often lead to back pain and other health ailments. “This [knowledge] has been around since the ’70s,” said Dr. Lorch, who is a musculoskeletal/interventional spine and electrodiagnostic medicine specialist. “Employers and workplaces started realizing the need for back care guidelines and proper lifting techniques.”
Despite these precautionary measures, back pain in the workplace continues to be a serious issue. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found that lower back pain costs Americans at least $50 billion per year, is the most common cause of job disability and is the leading contributor to missed work.
Of course, the best way to approach back pain is to prevent it from developing in the first place. “I’ll usually recommend exercise [to patients] at a moderate level of intensity for 30 minutes five days per week,” said Dr. Lorch. “I also encourage patients not to sit for long periods of time.” For both back pain and general health purposes, Dr. Lorch stresses the importance of periodically standing up and walking around to promote blood flow at least once every 20 minutes.
For those already dealing with back pain, Dr. Lorch typically recommends anti-inflammatories, following the directions of your physician or those on the bottle, as well as physical therapy. Regimented physical therapy is important, Dr. Lorch said, because it forces people to stick with a prescribed strengthening program. “With scheduled therapy, you can be sure the patient is doing their part.” Dr. Lorch also prescribes heat and ice for an aching back, as well as over-the-counter products like Biofreeze® pain relieving gel, Solonpas® pain relief patches, and Icy Hot®. In addition to medication and over-the-counter products, Dr. Lorch prescribes complimentary treatments like massage therapy, chiropractic help and acupuncture.
And, as if anyone needed another reason to quit smoking, Dr. Lorch said tobacco use impedes healing by reducing the blood supply to the structures of the back and literally “bathes discs and nerves in damaging toxins.”
Back pain can be annoying at best and debilitating at worst. While there are countless proven treatments that can relieve pain, the best way to combat it is by making the right behavioral choices so you can avoid developing pain in the first place.
Find Convenient Sports Medicine and Injury Care
Carolinas HealthCare System offers a dedicated network of experts who treat a range of spine, muscular and sports-related conditions for adolescents, adults and seniors.
With eight convenient locations, Sports Medicine & Injury Care offers same-day scheduling to ensure you receive treatment as soon as possible. You will be seen by a board-certified physician, who will work with you to find non-surgical approaches to care. For appointments, call 704-863-4878.