But structural issues with bones, muscles, and more are only part of the back-pain equation.
Chiropractor Todd Sinett, author of "The Truth about Back Pain," explained the roles of other factors, nutrition and emotion, and offered tips for keeping backs pain-free, on The Early Show's Saturday Edition.
He says effective treatment of back pain must address all three factors:
We tend to put all our efforts into diagnosing and treating structural problems. The most important thing is that, unlike most medical conditions, who you see about your back pain determines what treatment you get. A general practitioner will give you medications or refer you to a physical therapist. A therapist prescribes exercise. A chiropractor does a manipulation or adjustment. A massage therapist does massage, and so on. All of them have different training, and no one speaks the same language, so we get only partial answers from each of them.
This is the most overlooked aspect of back pain. And it brings us to my father's story: He bent down to pick up a tennis ball, and got severe back spasms. He went to all kinds of experts, got all kinds of treatment, and nothing worked. Finally, he found a doctor who asked WHY, instead of just trying to treat the pain. And it turned out the problem was diet: Lots of coffee and sweets had caused reflux that affected my father's back muscles.
Also, there are hormones. Women know back pain is often associated with their menstrual period. And pregnant women will have back pain, even before the weight of the baby becomes a factor. Putting them on an anti-back-pain diet can help them, as well.
A Stanford University study ranked emotional attitudes and stress as the leading factors in back pain. So, if you get back pain, ask first, what are you stressed about? Ask how to relax.
The best exercise for the most common types of back pain, studies show, is simple walking. Except for sudden injury, back pain tends to develop gradually, and gradual exercise such as walking helps.
Among the ones about back pain: If you bend down to lift something and your back goes out, it's because you bent wrong. It's rare for your back to go out after making a simple movement such as bending. If you suffer sudden back pain, it's likely you've been doing something that damaged your back little-by-little, and bending was simply the final indignity, and your back said, "No more!"
Another myth: the location of your back pain points to the problem. Fact is, you may experience pain in one part of the body when the problem isn't really there. For example, an imbalance in your feet can cause pain in your lower back.
Yet another myth: Abdominal exercises, such as sit-ups and crunches, strengthen your back. Sit-ups and crunches actually cause more back pain than they prevent. Sinett says he's treated so many patients who've hurt themselves with these exercises, he firmly believes you should never do them. Instead of sit-ups, the ideal exercise to do is called "The Skinnies," which work a small internal abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominus
There are two important pieces of equipment if you want "six-pack abs," and the amazing thing is that nearly everyone has them: a pair of sneakers - this represents cardiovascular exercise - and a fork, representing what you eat. To get the six-pack abs, you need to lower your percentage of body fat.
Stretching is good for the back. It's all about flexibility, and flexibility helps us stay young. Stretching for five-to-eight minutes a day is plenty. And "No pain, no gain" doesn't apply here. When it comes to stretching, "No pain, no gain" is ridiculous. You want to improve your comfort level, not hurt yourself. If you work at an office, get up from your desk now and then and stretch standing up: Bend backward, 10 repetitions. It really helps.
To read an excerpt of "The Truth About Back Pain," click here.