How to Fix Your Back
On I-15, near where I live, there is a prominent billboard advertising back surgery with large title header, "FIX YOUR BACK". I sigh in discouragement, frustration and irritation every time I drive by, although it does always re-inspire me to help patients understand that surgery rarely 'fixes' the back and often creates a whole new set of troubles. A spine surgeon, no matter how well-intentioned and skilled, is 99% of the time not the person to 'fix your back'. So who is? YOU, the patient, with the help of a skilled and thoughtful doctor. Work your way through these following steps (the big 3 of health!) and then move on to #4 as needed:
Move your body. Every single day. Your back is never going to get better if this is your day: wake up, drive to work, sit for 8-10 hours at a desk, drive home, sit in front of the TV for a couple of hours, go to bed. I will repeat, your back is NEVER going to get better unless you incorporate consistent, daily movement into it. Every single day. My patients with chronic back pain who do the best have a set of regular back exercises that they do every single day, sometimes twice a day, whether they have back pain that day or not. Your body, and your spine especially, needs consistent movement. If you are not sure where to start or are scared of hurting yourself more, consult a skilled physical therapist (PT) or skip to #4 below.
Eat food that sustains your body. You know what I mean. We don't need to get into a debate about paleo versus vegan versus low-carb. Eat fruits and vegetables, meat/egg/fish if you want it, some grains. Don't eat anything that comes in a box or wrapper. Keep it simple, and eat to fuel your body. You will drop weight if you eat this way. Excess poundage is not good for your back.
Your body needs sleep to heal, as does your brain. Aim for at least 7, preferably 8-9, hours of unmedicated sleep per night. Unmedicated? If you are sleeping only with ambien, lunesta or another sleep aid, you are not getting into the deep, restorative phases of sleep that your body and mind need. Consult with a sleep specialist if needed. If #1-3 fail and you still have back pain, move on to #4:
4. CONSULT WITH A NON-SURGICAL SPINE SPECIALIST:
Surgeons are extremely skilled at what they do, but if you are wanting to avoid surgical options, start with a non-surgical specialist who is trained in another options for 'fixing your back' besides surgery. Our field, physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry) is a board-certified medical specialty dedicated to restoring function to people with musculoskeletal problems using non-surgical options. Some options that we offer include acupuncture, prolotherapy, and regenerative injections. We can also help guide you to exercise-based options such as yoga or physical therapy and make recommendations for your regular daily exercise. Yes, YOU can 'fix your back'. Keep moving! Dr. V.