Oh My Aching Back: How to Cope With a Bad Back

Today Show, NBC News—June 11, 2011

In this Today Show segment Dr. Gregory Lutz of Hospital for Special Surgery in New York talks about the causes and common treatments for back and neck pain.

Eighty percent of Americans experience back or neck pain at some point in their lives, and for many the problem is chronic. 

What is usually the blame for back pain?

“A lot of it is lifestyle and inactivity. Sitting all day at our desks at our computers contributes to pre-mature aging of the disks.”

What does it mean to 'throw your back out'?

“Ususally in most cases it’s a tear of the disk. Which separates each section of the spine. And the disk is the structure that's like a jelly donut, it has jelly in the center and it's surrounded by rings. When these rings tear, that’s when most people experience pain."

How to deal with debilitating pain?

“The good news is that most episodes of low back pain are self-limiting and they resolve with activity modification. Maybe a day or two of bed rest, some local heat or ice to relieve the muscle spasm, and use some anti-inflamatory medication to decrease the inflammation.”

How do you know when it is more serious?

“If the pain is associated with leg weakness or numbness, that’s more serious. If the pain is associated with fevers, chills, sweats or severe night pain, that’s more serious. And if you have any incontinence, that is also a very serious condition.”

What treatment options should people consider if they are suffering?

"At Hospital for Special Surgery here in New York, we use an interdisciplinary approach. While we find surgeons that treat the worst cases, most of the patients are seen by a physiatrist in our department of physiatry and these are doctors that specialize in the field of physical medicine and rehabilitation. And they are really nonsurgical experts to manage low back pain."

If you sit at the desk all day, what can you do to avoid that problem?

"It's good to get up every 30 minutes and relieve pressure. The way that the disk receives its nutrition is through compression and relaxation. So if it is chronically compressed, it doesn’t get the nutrition it needs to stay healthy.”

Watch the segment at today.msnbc.msn.com.

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