Health Female Adda
1 year ago
How to Get Back Pain Relief

At 26, I felt feisty, athletic, and downright invincible. It wasn't until I broke a mean sweat at the gym on a random afternoon and something gave out in my lower body that my perspective began to change. My lumbar, bum, and left leg screamed like a trio of Mega Millions lottery winners -- the sensation was so intense that I was bed-bound the next day. My doctor's advice? Pop prescription-strength Aleve and get some rest (as if I had a choice). Sure enough, my pain eased after a week, and a month later, I seemed like myself again.

Though I felt entirely alone in my achy breaky back pain, it turns out I'm just another stat. Studies show it's the number one cause of limitations to physical activity for people under the age of 45, and it's the number two reason we call in sick (just after colds and flu and that sadistic Oprah rerun with James Frey). So what gives -- besides our bodies?

"In your 20s, it's most likely caused by a muscle strain or a [problem with a] disk," one of the spongy cushions between the vertebrae, explains Daveed Frazier, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. (Dr. Frazier also became my specialist.) For most patients, back pain improves within a couple of weeks or so. But while most strains will eventually heal by themselves, an injured disk can grow worse -- that is, unless you take serious steps to prevent future problems. That's why I suggest starting now.

Part of the trouble is that the human spine isn't as strong as one might imagine, and disks are among the weaker links. As early as your 20s, your spine suddenly becomes less willing to tolerate the abuse you put it through; sitting for long periods, slouching, lifting, and even exercising can cause damage. Disks are intended to absorb shock, but over time, they flatten and dry out. And should they bulge (called herniated or ruptured disks), they may end up poking nearby nerves, causing serious pain. Eventually, I was diagnosed with sciatica, which occurs when a herniated disk presses on the roots of the sciatic nerve that runs down each leg. This affects 1 to 2 percent of all people, usually between the ages of 30 and 50. Reminder: I was only 26 at the time. Lucky me.

Six years later...

My back pain (and sciatica) returned -- this time during spinning class while I was training for a honeymoon cycling trip in France. And once again, my doctor prescribed a simple treatment: Rest for 2 to 3 days, ice for 20 minutes every hour for 2 days (if ice doesn't help, try heat compresses), and take over-the-counter pain meds as needed. What made his Rx different this time was that he suggested physical therapy (PT) after the rest period -- and told me to keep moving.

Jeffrey Goldstein, M.D., a spine surgeon at the New York University Hospital for Joint Diseases, couldn't agree more about the need for physical activity -- and physical therapy. "The biggest mistake people make with back pain is to lie around and eat Advil until the pain goes away," he says. For me, a typical 1-hour PT session included assisted stretching, as well as strengthening and stretching my lower torso, hips, and hamstrings. Weekly massages and electric stimulation can also ease muscle tension and help keep pain at bay. Regardless of your regimen, expect to visit a physical therapist 3 days a week for about a month. If you're not better after that, go back to your primary M.D. or see a pain, nerve, or orthopedic specialist. An epidural, more PT, or stronger meds may be in your future.

Haven't got time for the pain

Just because you feel better doesn't mean you're off the hook. Talk to your doctor about trying these six steps to avoid a nasty redux.

1) Build fab abs. "Don't just go for the six-pack," Dr. Frazier says. "Strengthen the muscles that go around your entire spine: the obliques [the diagonal abdominal muscles on the sides of your torso], the abs in front, and the back muscles." This helps evenly distribute impact on your vertebrae. Work your abs three or more times a week for at least 10 minutes at a time; click here for great core-builders.

2) Make like Gumby. When your hamstrings, hips, and back are tight, they put extra stress on your spine, which can cause pain later on. Stretch those muscles at least 5 minutes a day before bed and at the end of each workout.

3) Learn the pickup line. You already know to lift everything from a 5-pound bag of groceries to a 50-pound barbell by bending your knees, hugging the object close, and pressing up with your legs and abs. But many make the mistake of twisting to one side as they lift. Not you! Lift facing the same direction as your hips, with equal weight on each leg.

4) Stand (and sit) smart. Mom was right again! Slouching is bad -- it strains your lower back. So does sitting with your knees at the same height as your hips, experts say. Shut everyone up by lowering your knees below hip level while seated "to maintain the natural curve in your back," says Natalia Glenn, a physical therapist in Katonah, New York.

5) Get a brand-new bag. We don't care if your oversize Marc Jacobs makes your office rival more envious than a bald man at a Hugh Grant movie. The heavy-handbag trend is a common cause of back pain in women, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Don't let your purse weigh more than 10 percent of what you do.

6) Stop with the Snickers. Extra jelly in your belly pulls you forward, creating an exaggerated curve in your back. "It puts additional pressure on the disks, which can make them bulge," explains Michele S. Olson, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at Auburn University Montgomery.

Unfortunately for me, I learned these preventive measures too late to benefit. Instead, I spent a year experimenting with everything from massages and meds to an epidural injection. But my bulging disk would not relent. At one point, the pain was so awful I could barely walk, not to mention leave the house for dinner -- or stay in for sex. That's when Dr. Frazier began t talk surgery. He performed a discectomy, which removed the part of the disk that bulged -- and sure enough, it worked. Eight years later, I have no plans to run a marathon, but I practice yoga and strength train, and I can ride my bike up and down hills with a 37-pound toddler in tow. Next year, who knows? Maybe Provence again.

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