If you get pains in your back, join the world’s biggest club! Back problems bring occasional or constant misery to about 80 percent of the world’s population, and for many reasons the toll of victims is steadily rising. In Britain, for example, the number certified by doctors as being unfit for work through back pain has doubled in the past five years.
Even though medical science has made enormous progress in curing many serious ailments, doctors confess that their efforts to ease the world’s aching backs have so far had little success.
Back pain is not a disease but a symptom. What make sit so difficult to cure is that, in 90 per cent of aces, it is impossible to pinpoint the cause. In the remainder, the reason for the pain is clearly evident. It comes usually from an injury to the spine or to the muscles supporting it As a result, one of the discs separating the vertebrae maybe dislodged slightly, so that it presses on a nerve.
If this happens in the neck, pain may be felt in the arms. More frequently it occurs in the lower back, causing a variety of aches – at the site, in the buttocks or in the sciatic nerve, which tense down the legs and into the toes. In older people, lower back pain often arises from osteoarthritis of the spine.
Where the cause is evident, doctors have a high success rate, usually by manipulation, physiotherapy or surgery. Some advise rest, warm baths and mild analgesics, such as aspirin. Others argue that lack of progress in curing backache calls for a more radical treatment – not too much rest and a lot of exercise.
Without doubt, victims of back pain can do much for themselves by getting fit, adopting a healthy, weight-reducing diet and being more active. As some doctors say, exercise may hurt a bit a first, but in the long run it seems to offer more hope of keeping backache under control.
The advice applies not only to those who already have back pain. If you are free of it, you can defend yourself against an attack by getting into shape and learning to use your body properly. Good posture at all times is a major safeguard. It’s essential also to learn how to lift. Never bend over to lift heavy objects. Get close to them, slowly bend your knees, keeping your back straight. Let your legs take the strain, not your backbone.
Swimming is a good remedial exercise. If you do backstroke, glide forward with your face in the water. This avoids arching your back and aggravating in the pain.