For your health, get the lowdown on back pain

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— Almost all adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Although the incidence of back pain is high, many sufferers don't understand the causes, what effective treatments there are, or how to prevent back pain.

With a nationwide price tag of nearly $70 billion a year in medical expenses and lost wages, back problems deserve our attention. Whether your lifestyle demands sitting down all day or routinely lifting heavy objects, your back needs special consideration.

SportsMed is offering a Back Stabilization class from 7 to 8 a.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning July 11. For information or to enroll, contact the Yampa Valley Health Plan Wellness Program at 871-2500.

A host of factors may precipitate back pain, but the only proven approach to prevention is maintaining physical fitness of the strong, flexible muscles in your back and abdomen. Conditioning exercises should emphasize trunk flexibility and range of motion and be part of an everyday routine.

Back stabilization classes teach back pain sufferers how to strengthen the deep tissue muscles next to the spine. Physical therapist and back stabilization class instructor Susan Lawless says that longtime back pain sufferers can add new techniques and exercises to their "bag of tricks" to help improve posture and decrease the incidence of reinjury.

Steamboat resident Jean Morrissey, who participated in a back stabilization class earlier this year, refuses to give in to her back pain.

"It's the result of longtime abuse and misuse," Morrissey said. Since she took the class, she has noticed a decrease in her everyday level of back pain. "I stay active; walking and horseback riding are part of my regular routine, and now so are my back exercises."

Regular exercise not only prevents most back problems, but also is an effective treatment. Getting fit will help you maintain your ideal weight and curb the chances of recurrent back problems. Keep in mind the following tips for avoiding back problems.

n Use proper lifting techniques. Squat close to the object and lift with your legs, not your back. Carry heavy objects close to your body.

n At the workplace, check the height of your desk and chair to ensure that you are not overstretching to perform basic tasks and that your feet rest on the floor. Avoid crossing your legs.

n Stretch frequently to break up prolonged periods of sitting. Don't stay in the same position for more than 30 minutes.

n Practice proper posture and avoid sudden or awkward twisting movements.

n Learn relaxation techniques to reduce stress and tension that can contribute to muscle fatigue and poor posture.

Most back pain is caused by overuse or an injury and can be remedied in four weeks or less with minimal or no treatment. When the pain stems from an individual activity, it is most likely a muscle strain. In this case, rest and anti-inflammatory pain relievers are the best treatment. Other standard therapies for back pain include massage and a combination of hot and cold applications.

Bonnie Boylan is Public Relations Coordinator at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

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