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Bad weather can be a pain in the back

September 15, 2017
Back pain will affect an estimated 80 percent of us during our lifetime.

A lot of us will spend part of this weekend continuing to clean up after Tropical Storm Irma, and doctors want you to make sure you don’t hurt your back in the process. Avery Buchholz, a spine surgeon at MUSC Health, said yard work and back pain seem to go hand in hand.

“The extra work required by the storm will no doubt leave many in the Lowcountry feeling sore and painful. Prolonged bending over to pick up debris can cause strain, improper posture when raking can stress the low back and the manual labor our bodies are not used to can cause pain,” Buchholz said.

Tips for Back Pain

So, what should you do to protect your back? Buchholz suggests:

  • Before you begin, take a moment to stretch out and loosen your muscles.  Alleviating muscle tension can reduce the chance of muscle strain.
  • Avoid overdoing it. Take your time with yard work.
  • Lifting something that weighs too much and spending too long bent over can cause muscle strain, disc bulging and herniation, so take breaks and use good body mechanics and posture in all positions. 

But back pain isn’t just a yard work phenomenon. It affects an estimated 80 percent of us over our lifetime, said David Morrisette, a professor in the MUSC Division of Physical Therapy. He’s lead principal investigator at MUSC for a national, multi-site study focusing on the best ways to treat acute lower back pain. It’s funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, also known as PCORI.

“Lower back pain is a common problem,” Morrisette said. “How the person perceives the problem and responds to the problem are most likely the most important factors.”

He said it’s important to keep moving. “In most cases, going to bed and not moving for more than a day or two is not helpful and can make things worse.”

Morrisette recommends strengthening and endurance exercises, and exercise that helps you learn to control your movements. “If the problem does not improve in a week or so, then see a physical therapist.  A physical therapist should be able to tailor the exercises and other interventions to the specific limitations experienced.”

Alicia O’Connor, director of personal training at the MUSC Wellness Center, said her team has developed a video that can help people strengthen their backs. “It is critical to keep strength and flexibility even and symmetrical throughout the body.”

She said risk factors for back pain include:

  • Prolonged sitting
  • Poor posture
  • Being overweight
  • Being out of shape
  • Aging
  • Some types of arthritis and cancer
  • Jobs that require you to push, pull or lift while twisting your spine

Morrisette said MUSC Health is about to launch a chronic pain program that can help people suffering from spinal pain, but that’s far from the only approach to the problem on campus. “We do research and we have specialists who treat lower back pain. That includes experts in neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, anesthesiology, physical medicine, physical therapy, psychiatry and psychology.”

The mental health piece of that puzzle is important, he said. “Fear of movement, a feeling that work or activity will cause harm and a feeling that nothing can be done for the problem. All of these are the strongest predictors for the problem to become chronic.”

About the Author

Staff Report