Feeling Better Head To Toe

Back pain making you miserable? Feel better with exercise, rest 

Oct. 21, 2013 at 8:57 AM ET

Video: One of the most common types of discomfort among Americans is back pain, particularly in the lower back. NBC Chief Medical Editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman explains how people are dealing with the pain and how it can be medically treated.

Another Monday, another day of aching pain in your back. An estimated 80 percent of Americans will experience a back problem at least once in their lives, and more than 25 million Americans between the ages of 25 and 64 frequently have back pain. 

TODAY has just launched a new series, all about the 100 million Americans who suffer from continuing pain -- something that costs an estimated $560 billion annually, according to the Institutes of Medicine. The series is called Feeling Better Head to Toe, and today, the focus is on back pain. 

In workers 40 to 65 years old, back pain costs employers an estimated $7.4 million every year.

"There were times when I would be sitting at work and I couldn't even concentrate on work; I was just focused on how much pain was throbbing," Daniel Ashley, who suffers from back pain after first injuring his back about three decades ago, told TODAY. 

And this isn't just a problem that comes with old age, says Dr. Nick Shamie, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of California, Los Angeles. "We tend to see this problem in younger individuals: Working class, people in their active years," Shamie says. 

That pain may make you feel like lying down and keeping completely still, whimpering until the pain subsides, but experts say one of the best ways to deal with the pain may actually be to move more. Under the guidance of your doctor or physical therapist, exercise can help keep the pain manageable, something Ashley says has worked for him.

"The key is proper exercise, obviously under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist," Snyderman says. Rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications can also help manage the pain, she says. 

Most back pain is caused by muscular or soft tissue damage, but in some cases, the problem is neurological, and may require surgery -- something Snyderman calls the "final, final, final straw." 

Live in the studio, Snyderman showed off a cutting-edge piece of diagnostic equipment called Vertebral Motion Analysis, which captures the motion of the spine, allowing neurosurgeons to pinpoint the cause of back pain more accurately than ever before. "This is the first time we've really been able to see the spine move," Snyderman says. "Any time you can see something in real time and you can coordinate it with how a person feels, it will give you a better insight on what the problem is." 

This is the future of diagnosing back problems, and it's only in a few hospitals around the country right now. But today, many people can take steps to ease their own back pain by keeping these three tips in mind:

1. Keep your core strong -- as in, the muscles in your belly, mid and lower back and hips. Remember: "Strong core muscles, strong back," Snyderman says.

2. Get the right chair. You need one with lower back support, and make sure your legs and arms are perpendicular to the floor. 

3. You know this already, but seriously: Don't use your back to lift heavy stuff. Don't lean over from your waist! Use your legs -- your quad muscles, in particular -- to lift big objects.

All week, we'll be collecting responses from viewers, via Twitter, on the home remedies they depend on to manage their pain. Here are a few of the best responses so far. (You can join the conversation using #WhatWorksForMe.) 


Next up: Tomorrow, we'll feature new ways to deal with painful headaches. 

Video: TODAY’s Carson Daly reads some of the responses to our new week-long hashtag project #WhatWorksForMe and the topic of the day: How do you deal with back pain?


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