Ester Marsh column: Dealing with back pain

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 19, 2022

Do you suffer from lower back pain?

It is estimated that 80% of Americans deal with some sort of back pain in their lives. Eight percent of all adults experience persistent or chronic back pain. Typically, the pain is in the lower back. The lumbar part of your spine (lower back) is the most weight-bearing part of the spine. Add weak abdominal muscles and a big belly into the equation and that is the perfect recipe for lower back pain. Of course, it can be due to an injury or overuse of the muscles, ligaments and joints. Even a herniated or ruptured disc (the cushioning between the vertebrae) will most of the time put pressure on the nerve roots, giving you pain in the buttocks or even all the way down your leg. Numbness, tingling or burning sensations in your lower extremities can be caused from lower back issues. Another reason for back pain can be osteoarthritis, where cartilage wears down with age. Even a bad hip (or any other lower body joint problem) can cause back pain due to a limp or the way you are walking. Other reason for lower back pain can be:

• Spondylolisthesis is a defect in the spine where your vertebra slides over another.

• Spinal stenosis which is a narrowing of the spine (in the area where your spinal cord goes through) which is usually caused by aging.

• Fractures of the vertebra due to an accident such as a car accident or falling of a ladder, etc.

• Spinal deformities such as severe scoliosis put lots of pressure on the discs and nerves.

• Compression fractures, they are most common with post menopausal women who also experience osteoporosis. But it is also increasing in older men too, due to medications, getting older or not being physically active.

These are just common possible reasons for lower back pain. If you are experiencing lower back pain, have your doctor diagnose you first. With MRIs and CT scans and sometimes just some simple tests, doctors can find out a lot what is going on with your back. Once again, physical therapy and exercise are very successful in helping with lower back pain. I know when I don’t exercise, my lower back hurts a lot due wear and tear of my martial arts days. I have helped many people by showing them exercises to strengthen the core (abs, back and sides). If the belly is big (or extended) it puts lots of extra pressure on the lower back and once again, exercising, weight loss, correct posture can be your ticket to a healthy lower back.

I do see that too many people want to have surgery, thinking it is going to make all the problems go away. Most surgeons will have you go through physical therapy first. They know that if you don’t do your exercises to strengthen the core and reduce your extended abdomen, the surgery will not be as successful. And once again, water exercise is amazing for back pain or any other joint pain. With any lower back problem that is not going away, have a doctor’s diagnosis first, work with a physical therapist, or even try pain management through injections. Most importantly, change your lifestyle/diet as many lower back issues are due to lots of pressure on the spine because of an extended abdomen and a weak core. If all else fails, check with your doctor if back surgery is for you.

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.