Back Pain Versus Quality of Life

There is perhaps no better way to introduce this new delivery format for health news than to begin with the topic mentioned above. A friend recently shared an article from The Atlantic entitled “How Back Pain Took Over the World”. This article covered an update to the Global Burden of Disease Study which was recently published in The Lancet. Essentially, the study identified back and neck pain as a growing and major factor in age-related disability and reduced quality of life worldwide.

Chances are that most of us have had some back pain at least once in our lives. Statistics strongly support that over 80% of all Americans will suffer from this malady. The human spine is a wonderful piece of bio-engineering, enabling us to stand and move upright and to negotiate a plethora of positions and movements. But it can be a bit vulnerable to our modern habits of sitting, poor mechanics, and bad judgement.

I felt some some concern when I read the Atlantic article and the lead author in the study, Theo Vos, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, stated “For many years I’ve had a very severe backache, and I don’t really seek care for it because it really doesn’t help.”  While I do respect that everyone’s situation is unique, there really are good treatment and self-care techniques available to reduce or even eliminate most types of back pain.  In his defense, Dr. Vos may not have been aware of all the things we can do for the spine in the physical therapy and fitness realm.

I suffered a lumbar disk herniation at age 19 while working on a construction job. I  have since grappled with chronic instability and the occasional flareup of problems.  But I have not been in continuous pain or disabled status. In fact, if I look back over the past several decades and compare “days I was disabled versus days I felt (relatively) normal”, it turns out that most of the time I’m not bothered by my back.  A lot of this is probably due to the fact that I perform a variety of health and fitness practices that contribute to spinal well-being.  These certainly include good nutrition, good bedding and sleep habits, minimal sitting (use of standing desks and other ergonomic tools, etc.), proper posture and body mechanics (especially when lifting), and specific exercises to benefit the spine. However, most important of all these things is what I like to call OWNERSHIP. I own my back. It’s mine. It’s had some problems. I accept that. So I don’t expect it to be like new or perfect. I work with it and manage it. This can be a struggle for all of us but it’s also an opportunity to use the best of science and not let back pain diminish our quality of life.

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