Your lower back is the linchpin of your frame. Taking a few steps to protect and strengthen this vital area will literally keep you in action. The muscles and vertebrae of the lower back, or lumbar area, support your upper body and keep you centered so you can walk, bend forward, lift, turn, stretch and stand. Because it is the center of so much action, the lower back is also a common target for strain and pain. According to the 2009 National Health Interview Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30% of women and 26% of men report having back pain. The causes of lower-back discomfort can range from injury to stress to the rare, serious illness. But all back-pain sufferers have one thing in common: They just want the pain to stop.
The best way to avoid back pain, of course, is to keep your spine and back muscles strong in the first place. People under 50 who maintain a healthy weight, safely stretch and exercise, and remain moderately active throughout the day are more likely to avoid lower-back pain. Habits that put your lumbar region at risk include bad posture, wearing high heels, carrying a heavy satchel around, and sitting motionless for hours on end. No matter how many good reasons you have for being chained to your desk during the work day, be sure to get up, stretch gently and move around for a few minutes every hour. Your boss will understand, and your back will thank you! If it’s too late for preventive measures and you have had back pain for longer than two weeks, see your doctor. The doc will first take a history to make sure there are no indications of serious problems: cancer, diabetes, infection, spine deformation or nerve damage. Be prepared to describe the pain’s frequency and duration, and to answer questions about your activity level and habits. A medical professional may have you bend, lift your leg or perform other physical tests to assess your range of motion. A common first step in treating nonspecific lower back pain is to apply heat and take a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen. Depending on the nature and intensity of your pain, a doctor may prescribe an anti-spasmodic medication as well. Happily, most back pain that is properly diagnosed and treated will be resolved with simple self-care within a couple of months. If the pain persists, or disappears and then returns within 6 weeks, alert your doctor again.
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TheVisualMD.com: Norman Marcus, M.D.