Back trouble—especially lower back pain—is very common. Jon Taveau, DO, a neurosurgeon at Memorial Hospital of Carbondale, believes that circumstances in southern Illinois make the problem even more likely here, than in the nation as a whole. He estimates it's the fifth most common cause for doctor's visits.
“When you have a workforce that regularly engages in hard physical labor—farming or mining, for example— then you’re going to see a lot of bad backs,” says Dr. Taveau.
Diagnosing Back Problems
“When most of our patients come in, they haven’t been in pain for six months or a year—it’s more like five years or even longer. They have labor-intensive careers, and along with the back pain there are other symptoms.”
Many of these patients aren’t treated surgically. In fact, there is a very strict protocol the doctors follow before even getting to that option. They first try a combination of physical therapy, injections, chiropractic and interventional pain management to solve these problems.
Brent Newell, MD, a physiatrist with the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago at Herrin Hospital, says physical therapists suggest a variety of techniques to isolate and remedy the problem.
Dr. Newell stresses the importance of core strength, focusing on the surrounding musculature to take stress off the spine. “My goal is to get the pain under control and strengthen the body,” says Dr. Newell.
Back Pain Prevention
There are some factors we can influence that contribute to back problems—including obesity, cigarette smoking, diabetes and hypertension. And although keeping in top physical shape and always using proper lifting techniques can help maintain back health, Dr. Taveau does report that some problems may not be preventable.
It’s difficult to offer precise guidelines for when you need to see your doctor about back pain. But if you’re having major symptoms such as pain shooting down your leg or a loss of function, that’s a good sign something is wrong and needs treatment, the doctor says.
Tips for a Healthy Back
- Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
- Make sure your work surface is at a comfortable height for you.
- Sleep on your side to reduce any curve in your spine.
- Maintain proper nutrition and diet to reduce and prevent excessive weight.
- If you smoke, quit. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine and causes the spinal discs to degenerate.