Treating and preventing back pain

Few things are more painful than a back injury.

The back is particularly vulnerable to injuries, which can be caused by anything from poor posture and improper lifting to a herniated disk, sciatica, or arthritis.

Once back pain hits, one of the first steps in treating it — and, ideally, preventing it from recurring — is getting an accurate diagnosis. Every so often, back pain is caused by something serious, like a fracture, tumor, or infection, so it is important to see a doctor if you are suffering from persistent pain.

Even if you have never suffered from back pain, talk to your doctor about prevention. Do you have a family history of arthritis or degenerative disk disease? Do you sit at a computer all day or do a lot of bending or heavy lifting? You and your physician can come up with a plan to avert problems.

Embrace prevention. The simplest prescription for preventing back pain is to get moving.

Your body is a dynamic structure that is meant to move. As you get older, your strength and range of motion decreases; unless you work the muscles that support the spine, you put yourself at greater risk for injury.

Walking and swimming are good low-impact activities that don’t put a lot of stress on the spine. Strength training builds the muscles that support the spine, and light stretching improves range of motion and flexibility.

I would like to stress the importance of performing the exercises properly. Have you seen people in the gym doing a gazillion crunches and wonder why they are not getting results, and why their back continues to hurt? With a regular crunch on the floor, you are limited to your range of motion, and to the muscles you are training. These people are targeting the outer layer of their abdominals, the rectus abdominis. The deepest part of the abdominals is the transverse abdominis, which attaches to the spine and helps support it.

With Bender Ball exercises (classes are available at the recreation center) you are taught to strengthen the deep layer of abdominal muscles.

Oh, my aching back. Prevention is the key to avoiding pain and injury. Remember that.