15 facts about back pain

Having a bad back is not a lot of fun. I once worked with a woman who went from being the life and soul of the party to a shell of her former self after she hurt her back. It was so sad to see her suffering. Although back pain is very common, in most cases it clears up on its own without incapacitating us for long.
Back pain is the second most common cause of sick days off work (colds are first). It costs ACC around $300 million a year.
Four out of five Kiwis will suffer back pain at some stage in their life.
Around 80% to 90% of back pain gets better on its own within six weeks.
You should get urgent medical help if your back pain is accompanied by symptoms such as numbness, pins and needles in your hands or feet, loss of bowel or bladder control, or rapid weight loss.
You should also see a doctor immediately if you have a history of cancer or suffer pain that is not linked to movement.
Gardening is good exercise but it causes more back problems among older people than any other activity. To protect your back, avoid bending over double, vary what you do and take frequent breaks.
Back pain can be a symptom of a bladder infection. Kidney stones can also cause severe back pain that may come on suddenly and spread to the groin.
Frequently wearing high heels is bad for your back. They distort the spine's natural alignment and may compress the spinal nerves, causing pain.
Jandals can also cause back problems. Footwear that doesn't provide much support for your feet will allow your heels to wobble around. This extra movement travels up your leg to your spine, which has to absorb the vibrations, and this tends to cause problems.
While back pain can sometimes be due to the aging process, it's often the result of a sedentary lifestyle. our muscles become weak if they're not used, which makes it easier to damage them.
The best sleeping position for your back is lying on your side in a curled-up foetal position with a pillow between your legs.
If you usually sleep on your back, putting a pillow or rolled towel under your knees will relieve pressure on your lower back.
Smoking is bad for your back. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer from a bad back as non-smokers, according to an Israeli study. They don't respond as well to treatment, particularly surgery, and it takes them twice as long to heal, possibly due to lowered levels of oxygen in their blood.
How quickly you recover from back pain can depend on your attitude. Studies have shown that people who see back pain as a major debilitating illness take longer to recover and have more time off work. Those who try to get on with life as best as they can and don't focus on being unwell often recover more quickly. Research has also found that people who have a job they hate, or no job at all, tend to be more miserable when they get back pain than people who are happily employed.
Bus and truck drivers are prone to bad backs. This is because they often sit in the same position for many hours, which puts considerable stress on their back muscles. Vibrations caused by driving can also contribute to backache.
Other occupations that involve a higher than average risk of developing back problems include building, dancing and being a drummer in a band. People who sit at computer keyboards for long periods can also develop backache.
Exercises that strengthen the trunk of your body will help to prevent back pain. These should target your abdomen as well as your back and can include exercises like sit-ups with your knees bent. Consult a professional, such as a personal trainer, to ensure you're doing them correctly. And if you've had back problems, check with your doctor or physio before exercising.
ACC tips for a healthy back:
  • Never sit in one position for too long. Take plenty of breaks and stretch often.
  • When sitting, use an upright chair and make sure your knees are lower than your hips.
  • If you have to sit for long periods of time, put one foot on a low stool.
  • Avoid low or soft chairs.
  • When working bent over, stand upright, place hands on hips and bend backwards several times.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes.
  • Avoid lifting while twisting and bending forward.
  • To learn more about correct lifting techniques, visit www.acc.co.nz
Why bed is bad for your back:
Once upon a time, when you hurt your back, you were told to go to bed and lie still. Now doctors say that unless you've suffered severe trauma, you should take anti-inflammatories and painkillers and try to stay active.
Peter Robertson, a spinal surgeon at The Back Institute in Auckland, says, "Very rarely would we advise people to stay in bed these days. The correct treatment is to take painkillers and get on with life, doing a little less gardening or lifting heavy things, but still moving.
"People who remain active and continue to function tend to have fewer problems. The vast amount of back pain is not due to serious damage so people will not be making things worse by being active."

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