You wouldn’t think of revving up a cold engine after your car has been on the blocks for months. The same principal applies to the modern couch potato after hibernating in front of the TV all winter. Back injuries can occur when warm weather arrives and we shift into high gear.
Armed with information and a few health tips, back injuries are preventable.
The most common injuries
The most common back injury is the sprain—called a paraspinal muscle sprain—similar to what you might sustain in a lower extremity like pulling a hamstring. This happens when there is too much stress, too quickly—and the back muscles and other soft tissue fail to support the back. A classic example of this occurs when doing heavy lifting, i.e. yard work or snow shoveling. (Other common causes of back injuries are caused by preexisting degenerative disc disease and osteoporosis).
The onset of pain is immediate, intense, and usually will stop you in your tracks. This pain, however, does improve over days or weeks after the inflammation calms down.
How do I know when it’s bad?
When there is a back injury, delicate spinal nerve tissue also can become involved. Typical back sprains—including degenerative disc flareup—are not accompanied by neurologic symptoms in the extremities.
What to do
Sprain and strain injuries are best treated with nonsteroidal pain medication to stop the inflammation. Advil, Motrin, Aleve, Naprosyn and meloxicam are some typical anti-inflammatory medicines that are effective. Heat therapy such as a heating pad, warm bath or whirlpool treatment can provide relief.
For chronic plain, other treatment modalities can be useful, i.e. physical therapy, chiropractic care, massage therapy or acupuncture. We do not recommend the routine use of narcotic pain killer therapy for patients with chronic degenerative back pain because of the risk for narcotic abuse.
The big three risk factors are weight, deconditioning due to inactivity and smoking. If you are heavy or have gained weight—you are at increased risk of back injury because there is a greater load on your spine. In overweight individuals, even minor activities can cause injury.
Smoking clearly plays a role in premature degeneration of the human spine. Human intravertebral discs have been shown to actively degenerate in the presence of nicotine. Smokers have a much higher incidence of back injury when compared to nonsmokers.
Inactivity is your back’s enemy because weak muscles cannot support your spine. Maintain muscle tone by regular back strengthening exercises and physical activity.
Stay away from pain in the first place – tips for prevention
- Make sure your weight is in a healthy range.
- Keep moving. A dedicated back strengthening exercise program can easily be performed at home. Abdominal muscles also help support the back so don’t neglect your core. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons offers a Low Back Bain Exercise Guide.
- Learn appropriate lifting techniques for heavy objects. When lifting, a rule of thumb is to keep heavier objects closer to the body—rather than away from it—to decrease the load on your spine.
- If you are a smoker, stop. Join a smoking cessation program or consult your physician.
If you have concerns about back pain or an injury, always consult your physician.
Robert W. Molinari, M.D., is the director of the University of Rochester Spinal Surgery Fellowship Program and professor at the University of Rochester School of Medicine. He is a board-certified and fellowship-trained spinal surgeon and former director of Spinal Surgery and Orthopaedic Research at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma, Washington. He completed the prestigious Washington University Pediatric and Adult Spinal Surgery Fellowship in St. Louis and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.
|For more information, visit the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Spine Center or call (585) 341-9050 (Brighton), (585) 225-6296 (Greece).|