Spring has Sprung

Is Your Back Ready?

Dr. Kevin Stevenson, Neurosurgeon Spring is in full bloom in Middle Georgia with summer right around the corner.  That means most of us are getting outside, increasing our activity level, and doing things we haven’t done in months. Girl Stretching in Gym Purchased from iStock very small Unfortunately, spring is also peak back injury season as we too often ask our spine to go from “zero to sixty”.  Below are a few trade secrets to keep everyone on the golf course and in the garden instead of the exam room. The spine is a series of joints stacked on top of each other, 25 joints in total.  You only have two knee joints and no one is shocked that we injure our knees with vigorous activity.  Imagine 25 knee joints linked together and asking them to bend, twist, and support our body weight – a tall task.  However, this is what we ask of our spinal column daily.  Add to this 23 discs, a series of ligaments, and multiple different muscles all encasing our spinal cord and nerves and it is no wonder that we get a back ache from time to time.  It still amazes me that this complex structure fails as infrequently as it does.  If we liken this complex system to a car, it becomes obvious that proper maintenance should be critical to maintaining optimal performance. BackPhoto PurchasedfromiStock cropped

Spring Cleaning For Your Back

Spring is the time that we do a thorough cleaning around the house and yard.  Before tackling these chores, do some maintenance for your spine.  The best place to start is with a spine exercise program.  I am not talking about hitting the gym and working towards a Mr. or Ms. Universe physique but rather a simple program to prevent injury to the spine.  The best way to start is with a single visit to a physical therapist for a home exercise program.  Spending one hour with a spine maintenance expert can give you the tools to maintain your spine health at home on your schedule.  A series of stretches and strengthening exercises can be easily mastered in one visit and no expensive equipment is required. Just 10-15 minutes several times a week with the right  program will go a long way towards preventing back and neck pain. Other ways to maintain and even improve spine health include Pilates and yoga.  Pilates is a form of exercise designed to strengthen the core: your abdomen, back, and buttocks.  Your core is your internal back brace and the stronger it is, the better your spine can resist injury.  An added benefit is that a fit core is what many people are looking for as beach season approaches. Yoga is all about flexibility. Maintaining a flexible spine will a help prevent injury from repetitive motion or from the normal slips and falls of life.  Pilates and yoga classes are available at numerous locations including dedicated studios, gyms and fitness centers, senior centers, recreation centers, and other locations.

Reduce Stress on Your Spine

For every extra pound of body weight on your frame, the spine incurs four pounds of stress.  Put another way, if you are 20 pounds overweight your spine feels an additional 80 pounds.  Conversely, lose twenty pounds and your spine gets 80 pounds lifted off its back (pun intended). Excess weight that accumulates in the abdomen causes the spine to curve abnormally to maintain a center of gravity that has shifted forward. In the short term, this abnormal curve places abnormal forces on the spine making you more prone to injury. In the long term, these forces lead to more advanced degeneration of the spine. In addition to preventing back pain, losing weight has a profound and positive impact on back or neck pain that you might already have.

Smoking and Spine Health

The Effects of Smoking on the Spine Riz SaldinWe all know that smoking is bad for your health.  However, you might not know that smoking is particularly bad for your spine health.  Multiple scientific studies have shown that smokers have much more back pain than non-smokers.  There are several reasons for this.  Smoking causes hardening of the blood vessels and can cause the smallest blood vessels (capillaries) to become even smaller.  Discs, the cushions between the vertebrae, are the only cells in the human body that do not have a direct blood supply; discs do not have blood vessels delivering oxygen and nutrients to them. Oxygen and nutrients get to disc cells by a minute amount of diffusion through the blood supply to the bones of the spine.  In a perfect situation, the discs get the minimum amount of diffusion to stay alive.  In smokers, this diffusion eventually falls below the minimum required as the blood vessels to and in the bone become too small.  This leads to disc degeneration, arthritis, osteoporosis, and a higher likelihood of back pain and injury to the spine.  Science also tells us that the process can be reversed by quitting smoking.  If you are a smoker, and you want to do something that will have a huge positive impact on your spine (and your lungs, and heart, and wallet), quit smoking.  Easier said than done, so it is worth discussing this with your primary care physician who has tools to help you.

I Did Everything You Said, But I Just Hurt My Back

The above tips are not fool-proof.  Over 80% of Americans will have at least one significant episode of spine pain during their lives.  How do you know if you should take it easy, take some ibuprofen, and expect that the pain will go away or if you should call a neurosurgeon?  In general, most back pain is due to a muscle strain.  This is the common “backache” and is described as a “tight and achy” feeling.  A sore back responds to over the counter pain medications and time.  While neurosurgeons are happy to discuss these types of injuries with patients in the office, it is absolutely appropriate for these patients to give the pain a week or two to resolve as in most cases, it will.  A backache that is not showing signs of improvement after several weeks should prompt you to contact your physician for further evaluation.  The following, while not inclusive, is a list of symptoms that should prompt you to seek neurosurgical evaluation:

  1. Back or neck pain that is not improving after several weeks despite rest and over the counter pain medications.
  2. Pain that radiates down an arm or leg (sciatica.) This is an electric-like pain that is severe, constant, and often of sudden onset.
  3. Pain that involves changes in bowel or bladder function.
  4. Pain that is worse when lying flat or at night time.
  5. Weakness that involves a specific body part.
  6. Back or neck pain that suddenly appears after a traumatic event such as a car accident or significant fall.
  7. Any pain that includes a sudden loss of function such as speech, walking, holding an object, etc.
  8. Development of spine pain accompanied with fever


The spine is an amazing, and vitally important, part of the body.  There is a reason that being called “spineless” is not a compliment!  At Piedmont, we have the expertise, experience, and cutting-edge neurosurgical technology to diagnose and treat any and all disorders of the spine, spinal cord, and nerves.  From minimally-invasive endoscopic technology available only at Piedmont in the State of Georgia, to complex spinal reconstruction, to the treatment of spinal muscle strains, at Piedmont we’ve got your back!

posted 05/01/2017 in Spine

Tags: spine care, back pain, spine pain


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