5 Experts Share Insights on Avoiding Back Pain

By Wendy Bacigalupi-Bednarz, Editorial Contributor

From strains and fractures to bulging disks and arthritis, back pain can affect anyone at any time. How can you avoid that aching back? Five experts share their insights to help you avoid and manage back pain — instead of letting it manage you.

Daily Activities

Everyday activities, habits and gear can boost the risk for back pain, says Dr. Bruce Thomas, a sports medicine physician for Orlando Health. Paying attention to factors you often don’t think about can reduce potential back pain causes.

  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing, which can affect your range of motion and put more strain on your back.
  • Purge heavy purses, backpacks and wallets that can affect posture and put strain on your back.
  • Take breaks often. Whether sitting at the office or driving, take a break every hour to stand up, stretch and walk.
  • Forget over-the-counter back braces, which can create “lazy muscles.” If you have enough pain to warrant a brace, see your doctor first.

Habit Forming

Back pain is common and a frequent cause of disability, says Dr. Kingsley Abode-Iyamah, a neurosurgeon with Orlando Health. While some cases require surgical intervention, most resolve on their own. Dr. Abode-Iyamah focuses on routine. “The advice I give patients about avoiding future back pain can easily be applied by everyone:”

  • Maintain good posture while walking and sitting — especially if your job requires you to be seated for long periods.
  • Stretch. Along with core muscle strengthening through regular exercise, daily stretching loosens your muscles and can help prevent back pain.
  • Lift smarter. If you can’t avoid lifting heavy objects, at least recruit help (i.e., team lifting).
  • Manage weight. The more weight your spine has to carry, the more strain it will experience, which accelerates degeneration.

A Body at Rest

A frequent culprit for back pain is sleeping on the wrong mattress. If you wake up with pain, flip your mattress and continue doing so every two to three months. If that doesn’t help, replace it, says Todd Maurer, a physical therapist and clinical sports specialist for Orlando Health. Because bad body position can affect you day or night, he suggests these ways to keep your spine in a neutral position during sleep:

  • Side sleepers: Put a pillow between your legs.
  • Stomach sleepers: Place a pillow under your belly.
  • Back sleepers: Tuck a couple of pillows under the back of your knees to keep them supported in a bent position.

Reducing Inflammation

Diet and nutrition can affect back pain symptoms. Certain foods and nutrients are known to reduce inflammation, while others can aggravate it. Lauren Popeck, a registered dietitian with Orlando Health Physician Associates, identifies what foods help and aggravate back pain.

Nutrients that help reduce inflammation:

  • Omega 3 fatty acids found in chia seeds, ground flax seeds and walnuts as well as some fish (salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel and tuna)
  • Vitamin C found in red bell peppers, oranges, papaya, strawberries and kiwi fruit
  • Polyphenols found in onions, green tea, cocoa and red wine

Nutrients that aggravate inflammation:

  • Sugar, refined carbs and white flour found in pasta, white bread, soda and snack foods
  • Trans fats and saturated fats found in butter, margarine, hamburgers and fried foods
  • High levels of sodium contained in canned soups, lunch meats and boxed side dishes
  • Omega 6 fatty acids contained in corn oil, vegetable oil and soybean oil

Mind over Body

A mind/body focus can help you cope with back pain, says Dr. Robert Masson, a neurosurgeon and medical director of the NeuroSpine Center of Excellence at Orlando Health – Health Central Hospital. “Everyone feels back pain in life, by degree,” he says. “We strive to avoid disabling back pain.” Instead of focusing on the pain, he recommends concentrating on goals you can achieve once you learn how to manage pain.

  • Choose goals you’d like to achieve in 5 and 10 years with pain management — identify how back pain affects your goals and aspirations.
  • Mitigate the pain in advance by avoiding patterns that make it worse.
  • Work with your healthcare team to build your personal treatment and pain management strategy — de-emphasize pain and focus on mobility and flexibility.
  • If you fail to manage pain through mobility and flexibility, talk with your healthcare team about other possible issues.
  • Focus on what you can do. Don’t let others tell you what you can’t do.

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