Whether you work at a desk all day, lift heavy objects for a living, or stand on your feet for hours at a time, chances are you've experienced back pain.
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide.
Back pain affects more than 30 million people with up to 80 percent of the population experiencing it at some point in their lives.
“The most common cause is a strain to the muscle or ligament or strain to the disc," said orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Borkowski. "Those are the most common causes of acute pain. Chronic pain in the back usually comes from degenerative changes,”
Not everyone with back pain will need spinal surgery, but many do. Over the last four years orthopedic surgeon Dr. John Borkowski and CHRISTUS Spohn-South Hospital have been working together to raise the standard of care for elective spine surgery, while pursuing the Joint Commission Gold Seal accreditation.
“This nationally accredited program, it is a very rare program and not even a very rare amount of spine programs in Houston and San Antonio achieve this accreditation," said Borkowski. "It is based on having extra employees, specially trained employees, all designated to the spine patient itself.”
The goal is to receive this comprehensive spine program accreditation and raise the standard of care and protocol to achieve better patient outcome based on clinical guidelines.
“This is designed for patients admitted to the hospital, and it is basically a system of selection, following the patient in the hospital and postoperative care based on clinical guidelines,” said Borkowski.
CHRISTUS Spohn-South Hospital is expected to find out if it receives its accreditation in May 2020.
Back surgery may be an option for some patients if physical therapy and other nonsurgical measures don't work, but this is typically an option only to be pursued for severe cases, or after other interventions fail.
Back pain that comes on suddenly and lasts no more than six weeks (acute) can be caused by a fall or heavy lifting.
Back pain that lasts more than three months (chronic) is less common than acute pain.
Back pain often develops without a cause that your doctor can identify with a test or an imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
• Muscle or ligament strain. Repeated heavy lifting, or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you're in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back can cause painful muscle spasms.
• Bulging or ruptured discs. Discs act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disc can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve. However, you can have a bulging or ruptured disc without back pain. Disc disease is often found incidentally, when you have spinal X-rays for some other reason.
• Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
• Skeletal irregularities. A condition in which your spine curves to the side (scoliosis) also can lead to back pain, but generally not until middle age.
• Osteoporosis. Your spine's vertebrae can develop compression fractures if your bones become porous and brittle.
You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics.
To keep your back healthy and strong:
• Exercise. Regular low-impact aerobic activities — those that don't strain or jolt your back — can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking and swimming are good choices. Talk with your doctor about which activities you might try.
• Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises, which strengthen your core, help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back. Flexibility in your hips and upper legs aligns your pelvic bones to improve how your back feels. Your doctor or physical therapist can tell you which exercises are right for you.
• Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains back muscles. If you're overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.
• Quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit.
Avoid movements that twist or strain your back. Use your body properly:
• Stand smart. Don't slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.
• Sit smart. Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back can maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.
• Lift smart. Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight — no twisting — and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.