Myths and Facts About Back Pain

While the common cold claims the most sick days among U.S. workers under age 45, lower back pain comes in a strong second, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. In addition, it says, some 80 percent of adults are expected to experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Even though back pain is so prevalent, it's surrounded by a host of common misunderstandings. Among them, according to Kam Raiszadeh, an orthopedic surgeon who is medical director of the Advanced Spine Institute at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego, are:

-- Doing physical work puts people at greatest risk for back pain. In fact, those who sit for long periods of time are at equal risk. Truck drivers and office workers, for example, fall into this category. To reduce the risk of injury, you can use a proper chair with back support, raise your feet slightly with a stool or phone book, and take frequent stretch breaks. -- Back pain stems from spinal injury.

Actually, back pain is the result of the natural aging of the spinal discs, which is faster or slower depending on genetic factors. Among younger people, the cause can be sudden twisting, bending, lifting, trauma, poor posture, stress, improper shoes and smoking. -- Back pain is best treated by long bed rest. The truth is that too much rest is bad for an injured back. Muscles and joints may stiffen and weaken, and pain may increase.

Better is a balance of rest and gentle exercise, mild medications and physical therapy. -- Surgery eventually follows from back pain. In reality, since most back pain is caused by muscle strain, it goes away before long. Surgery is usually only needed when a spinal disc has ruptured. -- Back surgery is dangerous.

 In most cases of back surgery, the spinal cord is not involved. And in any event, today's highly accurate imaging machines (CAT and MRI scans) provide surgeons with detailed pictures of the target area, and doctors use the most sophisticated instruments imaginable.


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