And activities, like those where you need to lean backward and extend your back, can be especially tough on your spine, said Evan Werk, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Banner – University Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute in Phoenix, AZ.
Athletes like gymnasts, divers and football linemen are prone to repetitive stress injuries of the spine. So are people with jobs that require heavy lifting or long periods of standing.
The good news is, there are steps you can take that can limit the wear and tear on your spine and help keep your back strong and healthy.
These steps can help keep your spine in top shape
Here’s what Dr. Werk recommends to minimize the effects of wear and tear:
- Maintain a healthy body weight to help decrease stress on your spine.
- Strengthen your core and back muscles. “Planks are a good option because you don’t have to bend a lot to do them effectively,” Dr. Werk said.
- Use good form when you’re lifting. Lift primarily with your legs and keep your back straight, not hunched.
- Choose a diet rich in foods that contain calcium and vitamin D to help keep your bones strong.
- Regularly engage in weight-bearing physical activity such as walking.
- Have your bone density screened, when recommended, to check for signs of osteoporosis.
How can I tell if my spine is suffering from wear and tear?
Your health care provider can evaluate your back pain and help determine what’s causing it. If you have low bone density or osteoporosis, you’re more prone to spine fractures. You’re also more likely to have back problems if you are overweight or obese or if you injured your back when you were young.
Once you’ve identified the problem, your doctor can recommend treatment options. Depending on your diagnosis, treatment could include:
- Physical therapy focused on strengthening the core
- Surgery, for more severe cases
“Most of the time, back pain and wear and tear of the spine respond very well to nonsurgical treatments,” Dr. Werk said. “Maintaining a healthy body weight, eating a nutritious diet and engaging in weight-bearing physical activity can also be very helpful.”
With most cases of back pain, you can wait a few days to see if your symptoms improve before contacting your health care provider. But for severe back pain that comes on suddenly, you should seek treatment right away, especially if you also have numbness, tingling or weakness in your legs. “This could be a sign of a more significant back injury,” Dr. Werk said.
The bottom line
Wear and tear on your spine is a common complaint. But there are steps you can take to keep your back strong, healthy and free of pain. And if you do develop back problems, treatment can bring relief. To learn more about your back and neck pain, take our free back and neck pain assessment.
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