Dealing With Holiday Back Pain

huffingtonpost.com—New York, NY—December 8, 2009

by Helene Pavlov, M.D., FACR, Radiologist-in-Chief at Hospital for Special Surgery

Wintertime and the hectic holiday season is upon us bringing long lines and standing around -- carrying way too many packages; too often carrying things that you know are too heavy or awkward to carry; lifting items to move around your home to make way for Santa, etc., and forgetting to apply correct posture while lifting (correct way to lift: bend the knees and lift versus bending over to pick up the item); and dressing up in those new very, very high heels for the company party. All these activities and/or a combination, may lead to an aching back.

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives and ranges from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain. If your back pain lasts only a few days, it is considered acute and most often it will go away on its own. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or aspirin (if that is what you usually take for pain relief) may help with the pain. Rest may help as well, but not too much, as staying horizontal for more than 1 or 2 days might actually worsen the pain.

Strengthening and exercising the muscles that support the spine and your core can help prevent, reduce and even eliminate back pain. One of my favorite back pain relievers is to lie on the back on the floor (or a hard surface), knees bent, and feet flat on the floor. With the small of you back against the floor, tighten the muscles of the buttocks and abdomen and hold for a count of six. Slowly relax. Repeat five to 15 times. Additionally, it is best to use a harder mattress or even try sleeping on the floor while you are having the back pain. When sleeping, it is best to sleep on your back with pillows or a rolled up blanket under your slightly bent knees, again to straighten the back as much as possible. The goal is to be able to rest comfortably and not be in pain so the muscles in spasm can relax.

If the back pain is intense and radiates down your leg, or you find one foot dragging or there are bowel or bladder problems, you should call your back/spine physician and be evaluated. Longer term back pain that is chronic and lasts for more than a few months should also be taken very seriously and you should call your back specialist. A physician familiar with back pain will do a physical exam and likely order an X-ray, CT Scan, MRI or other procedure to diagnose your condition more specifically and localize the cause. Once the cause of the pain is identified, your physician can suggest options for you to consider for both the current symptoms as well as how best to prevent future back pain recurrences.

You can also log on to the Hospital For Special Surgery website to read more about lower back pain, symptoms, diagnosis and prevention of one of the most common conditions.

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