Back Care

Your body depends on the spinal column for structural stability. The spine is constructed of 24 vertebrae, stacked from the pelvis to the skull in a gentle "S"-curve. Between the vertebrae are spongy discs that cushion the bones. Pairs of bony projections, called facets, connect the rear of each vertebra to form a series of interlocking joints. The column is wrapped tightly in ligaments and supported by muscle. Major nerves, connecting the spinal cord with other parts of the body, pass through spaces between the vertebrae.

By far the most common site of back pain and injury is the lumbar region. Your lumbar spine bears the brunt of bending, stooping, sitting and worst of all, lifting. Low back pain usually emanates from degenerative changes to the lumbar discs.

With aging, the resilient disc material dries out, shrinks and loses some of its "spring". Under the stress of lifting, coughing or sitting improperly, the deteriorated disc can bulge or even rupture, spilling its spongy pulp into the surrounding space.

This herniated disc can press on the adjacent nerve root. This irritation can cause pain, numbness and tingling, or painful muscle spasms.

Loss of disc thickness can also cause wear and arthritic enlargement of the facet joint, constricting the space between the vertebrae leading to abnormal pressure on the nerve. Avoiding Back Injury.

Work on your posture

Don't slouch. Maintain the natural "arch" in your lower back whether standing or sitting. Lift with your legs. Don't bend over the object, bend your legs and keep your back straight and most important, don't twist as you lift! Sit with care. Prolonged sitting in one position or Indian style sitting is a back hazard you might not suspect. Lumbar support and periodic breaks to move around are essential. Control your weight. Being overweight, especially if you have a "pot belly", puts added stress on your lower back.

Treatments for Bad Backs

Bed Rest. For 48 hours or until the acute period passes stay in bed- even for meals, if possible. If your bed sags in the middle, add a board under your mattress. Heat or ice may help ease muscle spasm and aid circulation.

Pain Medication

Pain medication prescribed by your physician will help get you through the period of most severe pain.

Therapy

Your physical therapist will plan a treatment regimen suited to your individual problem, and begin working to restore flexibility and ease discomfort. Treatment may include heat, cold, massage, traction, manipulation and exercises for relaxation, conditioning, and restoring range of motion.

Teaching

You don't need to become and expert to avoid or overcome injury, but you may need to learn some new habits. Your physical therapist will help you continue therapy on your own with a home program designed to fit your needs.