Bye-Bye Back Pain!

Four out of five Americans will suffer from disabling back pain during their lifetime, according to the National Institutes of Health.

In fact, says Dr. Norman Marcus, director of muscle pain research at the New York University School of Medicine, people seek medical advice for back pain most than for anything else.

Marcus, founder of the Norman Marcus Pain Institute, says the best way to eliminate back pain is to prevent it.

On "The Early Show," Marcus shared the tips below for on treating and preventing back pain:

1. Your bed does matter. Your muscles require movement to stay healthy and some tossing and turning at night is actually good for you. A sagging mattress that's lost its resilience inhibits the body's normal inclination to gently move around during sleep and should be replaced.

2. What you do in bed matters, too, says Dr. Marcus. He strongly advises against reading or watching television while lying down. He points out that when you lift your head to view the screen--or raise your arms to hold a book -- you generate contractions that can strain your muscles and can cause pain in your neck, head or shoulders. He says the correct way to watch TV or read in bed is to sit up, with your back supported by the headboard and your knees bent.

3. Don't just sit there. "Our muscles are meant to move," says Dr. Marcus. Sitting at a computer for hours, or staying in any position for too long, stresses the postural muscles in your body. Try to remember to change positions frequently, even if only briefly, so that your muscles have a chance to move and recover their strength and flexibility.

4. Cross your legs. In a theatre or during a meeting where you realize you've been sitting for a long period, and it may not be possible to stand or move around, just cross a leg. And a bit later cross the other. Simply crossing your legs moves many back and hip muscles, which can be major contributors to low back pain.

5. Around the house: Muscles work best when they are not totally contracted or totally lengthened. So, to avoid straining your muscles while performing household chores, minimize your bending and stretching movements. Keep your most frequently used household items on easily accessible shelves and when cleaning the bathtub or low shelves, kneel or squat, rather than bending over. Use an upright vacuum cleaner rather than a canister, and stand straight.

6. Watch where you put your wallet. Men who sit with their wallet in their back pocket risk severe low back and leg pain by putting undue pressure on nerves and back muscles. A wallet pressing into muscles can seriously irritate them, causing them to tighten up and resulting in chronic pain that can be excruciating, even incapacitating.

7. Just say no. If something appears to be too heavy for you to lift, it probably is. There's no shame in asking for help to avoid straining or seriously damaging muscles. Rather than lift anything that's too heavy for you to handle, says Dr. Marcus, "Ask for help, wait for help, hire help -- or walk away."

8. When you do have to lift a heavy object, bend with your knees and hips -- not your back. Bring the object close to your body and use your leg muscles (your most powerful muscles), not your back, to do the heavy lifting. And, whenever possible, push (don't pull) heavy objects, using those leg muscles for power.

9. Shoveling snow. Take a few moments to warm up before you start to shovel. Just walking around for a few minutes will do it. Snow is heavy (one shovelful of wet snow can weigh 25 pounds), so lift with your legs, not with your back, and limit each load by using a shovel with a
smaller blade.

10. For women only. After childbirth, it is important for a woman to lose the weight she's gained and to strengthen key postural muscles (those that keep us upright), particularly the abdominal muscles. Pregnancy stresses low back muscles and stretches and weakens the abdominal muscles, which may cause a sense of heaviness and fatigue in the back.

Shoes: High heels produce an unstable position and may cause a woman to tighten her back muscles. But flats, which may overstretch the calf muscles, are not the answer. A shoe with a low comfortable heel puts less strain on the calf, which makes it easier on the back.

11. Your back pain could originate in your head. There is a direct link between stress and tension and back, shoulder and neck pain, says. Dr. Marcus. "Tension produces predictable patterns of muscle contractions which, if sustained long enough, can produce pain. If anger or anxiety are weighing heavily on you, stress reduction activities and relaxation techniques may be your best medicine."

12. Of computers, keyboards and laptops. Many people place their keyboards on top of their desks, level with their computers, Not a good idea, says Dr. Marcus: "To avoid neck, shoulder and back muscle strain, your arms should be positioned so that you reach down to use the keyboard, which is the reason keyboard trays can be found under desktops. The problem is even greater with laptops, which, Dr. Marcus told the Wall Street Journal, "are inherently un-ergonomic -- unless you're two feet tall." He recommends a separate keyboard when hours are spent on a laptop.

However, if chronic back pain does occur, it should be taken seriously -- and treated appropriately, says Dr. Marcus. "With the failure rate for the nearly one million spinal surgeries performed in the U.S. each year as high as 50 percent, it is clear that there has to be better way."
Dr. Marcus says he believes that sharing his new approaches to the evaluation and treatment of muscles with his medical colleagues could lead to more effective treatments for the majority of back pain patients.
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