MOUNT KISCO, N.Y. -- As we sit, stand, bend and stretch throughout the course of a day, our backs are in constant motion. But like most medical ailments, a little prevention goes a long way to keep spines healthy and happy. To avoid chronic pain, Dr. Marshal Peris of Northern Westchester Hospital offered some simple precautionary steps.
"When dealing with back and spine discomfort, chronic pain is generally defined as daily pain lasting more than three months," said Peris, co-director of the Orthopedic and Spine Institute and Spine Surgery Section at Northern Westchester Hospital. Commonly caused by arthritis, disc degeneration or muscle strains over time, back pain can often be prevented though small lifestyle changes.
"In the area between your rib cage and hips, five vertebrae and discs hold up your entire body with no supporting structure other than muscles and ligaments," said Peris. "Add the great range of motion the spine is capable of, and that's often what gets us into trouble." Although traumatic back injuries can trigger chronic pain, the vast majority of cases are the result of specific habits developed over time.
The most dangerous of these, cautioned Peris, is smoking. Those who are overweight, older and either sit or perform manual labor for extended periods of time are also at an elevated risk for developing chronic back pain.
In addition to maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding tobacco, Peris touted the importance of keeping the back in mind while both awake and asleep. "When sitting, change your position frequently," he said. "Your body wants to move, and that’s how your joints are lubricated." During sleep, there's no science recommending either a firm or soft mattress for reducing back pain. Rather, the most important aspect of a mattress is that it promotes a good night's rest. "It’s extremely important that you sleep," he said. "People who sleep well have less back pain."
Additionally, developing an aerobic exercise program also helps keep back pain at bay. Swimming, walking, using an elliptical machine or biking are all low impact ways to keep the spine happy. "Studies show that people who exercise have less back pain than those who don’t," said Peris. "Be active for 30 to 45 minutes, three to four times a week."
Ultimately, the majority of back pain can be rectified with lifestyle changes and non-surgical treatments. Physical therapy and in-home regimens are common first steps, and steroid injections can be added to reduce severe pain. "Surgery is rarely necessary," said Peris. "At Northern Westchester Hospital, we are able to dramatically reduce chronic lower back pain so you can live a fully normal life. However, prevention is the best medicine of all."
Learn more about back pain, prevention and treatment by visiting the Orthopedic and Spine Institute at Northern Westchester Hospital.