Back Pain and Arthritis – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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According to the Arthritis Foundation, “back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States – some 50 percent to 80 percent of adults have had back pain at some time, and 10 percent of all Americans have back pain in a given year. Back pain can occur at any age in both men and women.”

The statistics are pretty staggering. Back pain is sometimes caused by arthritis, sometimes from injury, and sometimes from other conditions. Here are some facts about back pain from the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Back pain affects 50 to 80 percent of people in the U.S. at some point in their lives.
  • In any given year, 10 percent of adults experience back pain or other symptoms, such as limited mobility or stiffness.
  • Each year, Americans spend an estimated $24 billion on treatments for back pain – not including missed time from work nor the emotional costs of enduring pain and not being able to participate in daily activities. Imagine what it would be like to have problems working, golfing or enjoying playtime with children!
  • Back pain can be mildly uncomfortable, excruciating or anywhere in between. It can start slowly, sometimes a result of poor posture, or come on suddenly because of injury.
  • Back pain can last for a few short days or can linger for weeks, months and even years.
  • Arthritis is a common form of back pain. The earlier arthritis is diagnosed, the more steps can be taken to reduce disability in the future.
  • Other factors that aggravate back pain include suffering from stress, not getting enough sleep, being overweight, having poor posture or not being physically fit.
  • Back pain should not be considered a normal part of aging; it is a chronic condition that calls for similar lifestyle changes as diseases like arthritis and diabetes do.

As Arthritis Today Magazine says, “Back pain can be crafty, using many circumstances to get into your life – a traumatic accident, a simple sprain or strain, fibromyalgia, arthritis of the spine, a fractured vertebra or ruptured disc.”  Conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis are also mostly identified by having spinal troubles as a prominent characteristic.

A recent study in the medical journal “Spine,” shows that consistent application of heat throughout the day can minimize some forms of acute back pain. The heat can be dry or moist. The study states, “the continuous (eight hours daily) application of low-level heat (104 degrees F) eased acute back pain better than either of two commonly used drugs, ibuprofen and acetaminophen.”

Sometimes, though, the opposite method is true: many people find relief for back pain or injury from applying ice. Arthritis Today Magazine states, “When back pain is severe, applying something cold can reduce pain and swelling by restricting the blood vessels and preventing fluids from leaking into the surrounding tissues. Cold therapy can also numb the affected nerves and distract your mind from the source of your pain.Image

But using ice for too long can cause stiffness, says Dr. Borenstein. He recommends using cold for pain associated with an injury and limiting it to the first 24 to 48 hours after pain starts. “As the process moves along, you’ll want to switch to heat, which can increase blood flow to a certain degree and help movement.” However, this method isn’t always great for folks who also have Raynaud’s Syndrome or circulation issues.

Exercise, yoga, massages, and water aerobics are also listed as ways to ease back pain, according to Arthritis Today. Of course, this all depends on your level of physical ability or disability, your pain level, and, your doctors’ suggestions – because, as helpful as exercise can be, some back problems actually need restricted movement. It is important that you find out what is best for you: physical activity, or, rest.

Losing weight if you need to can, however, help back pain – especially lower back pain. If you are overweight or obese, consult with a doctor, nutritionist, and/or trainer, to find out how you can shed some pounds to prevent further back issues.

Additionally, back pain is yet another reason to quit smoking. Arthritis Today Magazine says, “Smoking decreases oxygen to the various tissues that have difficulty getting oxygen in the first place such as the discs in your spine. Discs that are deprived of oxygen are likely to degenerate, and discs that degenerate may cause pain down the road,” says Dr. Borenstein. Smoking may also weaken the ligaments (tough bands of connective tissue that attach bones to one another) that support the spine, leading to instability.

Research has shown a high prevalence of spinal stenosis (a condition where the spinal canal is not large enough for the spinal cord) among smokers, and smoking is also a risk factor for osteoporosis, which can lead to painful vertebral fractures. Another negative: If you have a back problem that eventually requires surgery, studies show smoking slows the healing process.”

Acupuncture, chiropractic work, and taking medications as needed are even more ways to manage back pain — a condition that can be temporary and fleeting, or, chronic and debilitating.

Practicing good posture, sleeping with the right pillows and mattresses, and changing positions frequently throughout the day are more ways to possibly ease your back pain.

If your back issues are from arthritis, you’re not alone.

According to Everyday Health, “Arthritis back pain is a very common type of back pain. In fact, if you take an X-ray to look for spinal arthritis, 95 percent of people over age 50 will have some degenerative or “wear and tear” changes in their spines. This type of arthritis is classified as osteoarthritis

‘Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the joints in the back,’ says S. Christine Kovacs, MD, a rheumatologist at the Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Mass. ‘Although any part of the back can have arthritis, the lower back is the most common area.’”

Ironically, though, there’s been some debate on whether or not rheumatoid arthritis can affect the back. It would seem logical that it could, considering that there are joints in the back, some of which that don’t move, but are joints nonetheless.

If you are experiencing back pain of any kind, talk to your doctor or chiropractor. Physical therapy may help, or, you may want to try any one of these other options listed above. Living with chronic back pain is no way to live. Good luck!


Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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