What to do for a haywire back

Back pain is a major issue, especially for adults 65 and older. In fact, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reported that 80 percent of the population deals with some sort of lower back pain on a regular basis. Other studies suggest it is the most common health problem among older adults that results in pain and disability.

Lower back pain (LBP) is the second-leading cause of doctor’s visits, beaten out only by the common cold. It also accounts for the most job-related injuries and time off from work. As a whole, Americans spend more than $100 billion on treatment for LBP, according to the The Journal of American Osteopathic Association.

Back pain can come on abruptly after lifting a heavy object or as the result of an accident, but most back pain is caused by sedentary lifestyles. In general, Americans spend much of their time sitting. They sit for work, for travel, to eat, and to watch TV. They’re sitting so much it’s become detrimental to their health, leading scientists to say that sitting is the new smoking.

Many people have been surprised to find that the simple act of improving their back support while they sit can greatly change their day-to-day life for the better.

Products like The Back Thing relieves back pain by giving support to the lumbar area. Instead of horizontal cushioning that pushes the lower back to overarch, The Back Thing uses vertical pine slats beneath its padded cushion to promote better posture and lumbar support, according to the chair cushion’s manufactuer (www.TheBackThing.com).

To help deal with back pain, experts at MultiCare Health System recommend “chairobics,” a variety of seated exercises. Participants vary in age and physical abilities. Some prefer seated exercise because of joint or back pain. Some have breathing issues and find this type of class to be just the right intensity. Some feel the class helps them stay limber.

Other physical conditions that can benefit from the exercises include trouble standing or walking for several minutes, inability to get up and down from the floor, poor endurance, and knee pain.

Most back pain gets better within a few weeks without treatment. Over-the-counter pain medications often help reduce pain, as does the application of cold or heat to the painful area. But Virginia Mason Franciscan Health (formerly CHI Franciscan) recommends medical attention if back pain hasn’t improved at all after three days of home treatment or if the pain:

  • Is constant or intense, especially at night or when lying down.
  • Spreads down one or both legs, especially if below the knees.
  • Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs.
  • Coincides with unintended weight loss.
  • Occurs with swelling or redness on the back.