Oh, That Aching Back

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Don't tango with an elephant. Seems like easy advice to follow, doesn't it? Yet, as far as your back is concerned, that's pretty much what you do when--while balancing a large bag of groceries on your hip--you twist down to a child's car seat, reach over to unlock the harness, and pick up 27 pounds of squirming toddler. It was just such a maneuver that recently landed 42-year-old Mark H. in the office of Duke orthopedic surgeon Lloyd Hey, MD, with severe back pain.

Many people put themselves through similar contortions several times every day. The fact that so many people also suffer from back pain is not a coincidence. Whether it's caused by back disorders, disc disorders, or injuries to the back (see a list of common back pain culprits, below), back pain ranks second only to headaches as the most frequent source of pain complaints. By some estimates, back pain sufferers ring up more than $90 billion annually in health-care expenses, and account for 33 cents of every dollar spent on U.S. disability claims.

At Duke, Hey and his colleagues take care of patients from across the southeast U.S. and around the world with every sort of painful back condition, from herniated disks to congenital spinal deformities. Hey's specialty, in fact, is helping patients with serious spinal problems like scoliosis to live normal, healthy lives. But he says that most people with back pain don't need aggressive treatment so much as a tutorial in responsible spine stewardship.

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The human spine is a finely balanced network of bones, ligaments, muscles, and nerves, arrayed along a sinuous series of curves at your neck, upper back, and lower back. It's an intricate, ingenious structure designed to combine flexibility and stability while absorbing the impact of day-to-day living. When the stresses put on the back exceed its power to absorb them, however, pain is the unhappy result. While discomfort can be experienced in any region of the back, most cases of acute back pain are located in the lower back, or lumbar region, which supports the weight of the upper body.

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The source of this article is http://www.dukehealth.org

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