Back in Action: The Truth About Back Pain and How to Treat It

By: Porter Regional Hospital Last Updated: August 24, 2011

From the Summer 2011 Healthy Woman publication

With her class reunion just 6 weeks away, Suzanne decided to lace up her running shoes and exercise her way to a smaller dress size. “But after just two days of running, my back hurt so bad I couldn’t stand up straight. I didn’t want to go to the reunion walking like an old lady,” she said.

Suzanne’s back pain is all too common. In fact, more than eight out of 10 of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives – most commonly women between 45 and 64. “The good news is that most back pain will resolve itself,” according to Nick Nenadovich, MD, orthopedic spine surgeon with Lakeshore Bone & Joint Institute. Nenadovich is a fellowshiptrained specialist who practices exclusively on the spine.

Most people assume that as a spine surgeon, I’m going to tell them that they need surgery, but it’s actually pretty rare. Generally less than 5 percent of patients with back pain will need surgery,” said Nenadovich. “These days we have a lot of modalities to treat back pain without surgery,” he added.

When To See A Doctor

See a doctor right away for back pain that is accompanied by any neurological symptoms, such as radiating pain, numbness, tingling or weakness,” said Nenadovich. He also suggests seeing a doctor for back pain that lasts longer than a week or so. In the meantime, he recommends rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Yet “rest” doesn’t mean reclining indefinitely. “After a day or two, patients will benefit from moving around and walking,” he said.

Though Suzanne was among the fortunate majority whose back pain went away on its own (in time for her reunion), she did benefit from a trip to her doctor. “I recommend that patients begin with a primary care physician,” said Nenadovich.

Nerve involvement may indicate the need to see a specialist to learn about safe options. There are lots of things we can do, but if surgery needs to be considered, the outcome heavily depends on early diagnosis.”

Haven’t got time for the pain?

A healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing back problems before they start, said Nenadovich. “Promoting overall strength and fitness do more than make you look better. In fact, a regular exercise program that includes working on strength, balance and flexibility can help strengthen your core, protecting you from falls and injuries,” he said. “Yoga is typically pretty beneficial in strengthening the areas that will prevent back pain. In general, stretching is a mainstay.”

Tips From The Surgeon

For those who need to consider surgery, rest assured, said Nenadovich. “We can offer the same individualized care here that you can get in Chicago or beyond. We’ve been trained at top hospitals, including Cleveland Clinic, Rush, and University of Chicago. We can do anything that you’ll find in a university setting.”

Fact or Fiction: Debunking a few back pain myths

Myth: Always sit up straight to prevent back pain.

While slouching is bad for your back, sitting up too straight or too still for too long can be a strain on the back.

Myth: A super-firm mattress is best for your back.

A Spanish study of people with longstanding, non-specific back pain showed that those who slept on a medium-firm mattress – rated 5.6 on a 10-point hard-to-soft scale – had less back pain and disability than those who slept on a firm mattress (2.3 on the scale). Yet mattress preferences vary, depending on the person and sleep position.

Myth: Lifting heavy objects hurts your back.

It’s not necessarily how much you lift, it’s how you lift. While you should never lift anything too heavy for you, lifting something as light as a dropped pencil can cause pain if you twist or bend incorrectly.

Myth: Back pain is always caused by an injury.

While injury is a common cause of back pain, disc degeneration, diseases, infections, and even inherited conditions can all cause back pain.

6 Ways to Prevent Back Pain

Some of the ways to treat back pain can actually be used to prevent it as well. Consider the following:

Strengthen your Abs
A tight tummy does more than improve your physique. Your abs anchor the front and sides of your spine, providing strong support for your back and reducing your risk for injury. Strive to work your abs three or more times per week, at least 10 minutes at a time.

Learn to Lift
Lift by bending your knees rather than your back. Hug the item close and press up with both your legs and your abs. Be sure to always face the same direction as your hips and place equal weight on each leg, avoiding a twist to either side as you lift.

Tight muscles stress your spine. Stretch daily, particularly after a workout.

Sit Pretty
Slouching strains your lower back and so does sitting with your knees at the same height as your hips. Try to sit with even pressure on both feet with your knees below hip level to maintain the natural curve in your back.

Visit the Porter Health System website
Valparaiso Campus
814 LaPorte Avenue
Valparaiso, IN 46383
Phone: 219-263-4600

Pare down your purse
Heavy handbags can also lead to back problems. Be sure your purse doesn’t weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight.

Watch the Scale
Carrying extra body weight puts additional stress on the spine and can lead to injury, said Nenadovich. “Maintain a healthy weight to maintain a healthy back,” he said.

For more information, call Porter’s Spine Center at 219.263.BACK (2225)