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Tuesday, August 23rd, 2011

By Dr. Shawn Dill

Back pain can be attributed to a number of different causes: Poor posture, unhealthy eating habits, excess weight, spinal diseases, smoking, poor body mechanics and a variety of medical conditions. But there is one thing that causes back pain that we can do nothing about, and that is the simple turn of the clock. Everyday usage and movement—standing up, sitting down, twisting, lifting, walking—naturally puts pressure on the back, and over time, the body responds to this wear and tear with back pain and stiffness. In fact, the vast majority of adults will at some time encounter back pain during their lifetime.

The spine is such an important part of the human body, yet it is also exceptionally delicate. It is made of several individual bones called vertebrae, which are stacked on top of one another. Between each of these bones is a jelly-like disc that acts as a shock absorber and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. As the aging process occurs, these discs begin to wear away and shrink, and this causes the bones to rub together. The result? Pain and stiffness throughout the back.

Though back pain is a natural part of growing older, Baby Boomers can find some relief in knowing they don’t have to simply give in to the test of time. Depending on the severity of the situation, back pain can be alleviated through the use of one or several different treatments. The least invasive options require no medication or surgical procedures. Resting and restricting those activities that result in pain can make a big difference in back comfort. Physical therapy—including stretching, aerobics, heating, icing and massage—relaxes and strengthens the back. Chiropractic care and stress relief exercises such as pilates, yoga and meditation have also been shown to help. For those with severe back pain, a variety of medications and surgical options are also available.

As with many medical problems, however, the best cure for back issues is to prevent them altogether. No one can avoid the inevitable, of course, so just about everyone is bound to find a bit of stress on the back regardless of what they do. Nonetheless, healthy habits from an early age—or starting immediately—can have a big impact on back health throughout the remainder of life. Always be cognizant of good posture; stand and sit properly to avoid pressure on the spine. Eat a healthy diet, maintain an ideal weight and exercise in a way that strengthens the back and abdomen.

Perhaps the most important thing people can do as they age, however, is simply to be aware of their spinal column. Take care of it, and recognize when it doesn’t feel right. Ignoring back pain often only makes the problem worse, so any back pain that prevents everyday activities should be addressed right away. With acute back awareness and immediate response to tenderness and stiffness, those who suffer from back problems can mitigate issues and return to a pain-free life.