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How To Prevent Back Pain

Eighty percent of the population will have back pain at some time in their lives, many of them because they move the wrong way.

"We're all guilty of that, generally speaking," says Dr. John Bendo, an assistant clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at New York University's Hospital for Joint Diseases' Spine Center. "Some of the more common causes that we see in the office setting are lumbar strains that typically occur after somebody may bend down, pick something up, cough, or sneeze. Other reasons why people suffer back pain that I see in the office are lumbar disk herniations, spinal stenosis, and arthritic back pain as well."

The best way to avoid back problems is to actively prevent them. And a lot of the things Dr. Bendo says people should do are common sense. But it also depends on what's causing your pain.

The common advice is to not sit for long periods of time, take multiple breaks, do a daily stretching exercise program. If you exercise on a regular basis, you can help prevent back and a lot of other ailments.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler, "The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has certain guidelines and recommendations. People should exercise on a regular basis, 20 minutes a day, three or four days a week, an aerobic type of exercise program. Other helpful tips are to avoid smoking. Smoking has been associated with lower back pain and disk degeneration. Of course, keeping your weight down and staying in generalized good shape is also a very good thing."

Swimming is the best exercise you can do for the lower back. When people get into the water, back pain usually just disappears, Dr. Bendo says. Running sometimes gets a bad rap as not being good for your back. But that's not the case when you're talking about prevention.

It's possible that running could aggravate chronic back pain - but it's not going to cause new back pain. Rather, the aerobic activity will help prevent pain. There's been no really good scientific article that has linked running with chronic back pain. But in general, swimming, biking, and walking are the best, Dr. Bendo says.

Also encouraged are abdominal strengthening exercises. Building a strong abdominal wall promotes lower back health.

Here are some practical tips:

  • Bend with your knees, not your back.
  • Sit upright - get a good lumbar support.
  • Carry things closer to your body. Don't hold them out in front of you.

Even though lower back pain has probably replaced knee pain as the number one orthopedic problem, 90 percent of lower back pain can be resolved without surgery.

As for herniated disks, people usually develop disk problems somewhere between age 30 and 50, Dr. Bendo explains. Most people have some differences with their disks, but they usually don't become a problem. A herniated disk occurs when something happens to someone who already has a disk problem (they might not even know about it). It could happen because of something like a car accident - but you can also sneeze and get a herniated disk.

Most herniated disks will get better with time. Medication like aspirin and anti-inflammatory medication helps you deal with the pain and inflammation and allows the problem to heal. Bed rest is no longer recommended for back problems. Anything more than 4 days bed rest can especially be detrimental for sciatica (leg pain) and lower back pain. You need to get medication, and start doing things - slowly get back into physical activity, Dr. Bendo says.

Leading causes of acute - lumbar strain (or back strain) are either muscle or disc related. If it doesn't get better in a day or two, it's probably disc related - a tear in the wall of a disc or a herniated disc. The good news is that there's a 90 percent chance it will all get better in the next few months.

A lot of times the disk herniation will heal itself. It can shrink and go away or it stays there and the body gets used to it and the patient feels better - that usually takes a few weeks to a month.

Epidurals for sciatica often relieve the need for surgery. It relieves the pain and allows people to get better faster. It works for a lot of people.

About Dr. John Bendo:
Dr. Bendo specializes in surgery of the degenerative cervical and lumbar spine, spinal fusion in patients with diabetes, the treatment of spinal deformities, and the conditions of kyphosis, scoliosis, and spondylolisthesis. He is currently a principal investigator for a study in lumbar fusion and bone grafting. Dr. Bendo has presented numerous papers to professional societies on topics from adult degenerative conditions of the spine and disk disease to congenital spine deformity. He has also participated in several news media programs discussing the treatment of sciatica.

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