TODAY   |  October 21, 2013

Back pain an ageless problem for Americans

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.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> new series. feeling better head to toe . the most common type of discomfort, back pain. dr. nancy snyderman has more on that. good morning.

>> good morning, savannah. if you experienced any back pain in your life, you know how terrible it can be and lower back pain is the leading cause of disability in americans under the age of 45. more than 25 million americans between the ages of 25 and 54 frequently get it.

>> reporter: 100 million americans deal with continuing pain. that's more than diabetes, heart disease , and cancer combined and one third of those that suffer say their back is the culprit.

>> anywhere between 90 to 95% of patience will ha -- patients will have pain or people will have pain in their lifetime.

>> reporter: he says back problem is one problem that has nothing to do with aging.

>> we see this problem in younger individuals. working class . people in their active years.

>> reporter: he first hurt his back almost 30 years ago and struggled with pain ever since.

>> there were times where i would be sitting at work and i couldn't concentrate on work. i was just focused on how much pain was throbbing.

>> reporter: back pain in workers 40 to 65 years of age cost employers an estimated $7.4 billion a year and according to the institute of medicine , the annual cost of pain is over $560 billion. about $2,000 for everyone living in the united states .

>> it's been chiropractors, orthopedis orthopedists, surgeons, a neurologist.

>> reporter: most back problems involve muscular or soft tissue damage but for some patients it can be neurological or require surgery. an outcome he is trying to avoid through exercise.

>> find the thing that works for you and have the hope that at some point it will get better.

>> the key is proper exercise, obviously under the supervision of a doctor or physical therapist. the good news is that surgery is really rare. most problems can be treated with rest, ice, anti-inflammatories and surgery as always, as i say, savannah, absolutely the final straw .

>> we have something here. a device that could be an important diagnostic for back pain. tell us about it.

>> this is sidney. she is in a machine that checks for motion of the spine passively. it's bending her and then if she has any pain beforehand or during this procedure in real time and you can see this on the monitor behind me, it really allows us to look at the spine as it's moving. we're so accustomed to seeing heart beat and check for diagnoses and the brain during certain tests. this is the first time we can see the spine move.

>> rather than an x-ray you see this dynamic image.

>> exactly and you can coordinate it.

>> in the hospital there's radiation associated with this. it's in a handful around the country. it may not be the first test of choice but it's the technology of the future.

>> do you see this becoming more prevale prevalent?

>> any time you can see something in real time and coordinate it with how a person feels it will give you a better insight on what the problem is.

>> if you don't have this contraption, what are good back pain recommendations.

>> strong core muscles, you'll have a strong back. second thing is make sure you're in the right chair. that means your legs are perpendicular to the floor and arms, make sure you have lower back support. and when you have to pick something up, don't just lean over from the waist. use your quads. strong core, strong back. that's where men get in trouble.

>> we love you. you're a doctor but carson has been asking folks out there what their back pain remedies are.

>> very good.

>> i actually, dr. nancy has a compression t-12 fracture about 12 years ago. aleve has done wonders for me. but #what works for me is what we're asking. she says sometimes sitting up straight for preventive care. when sore sleep without pillow, but pillow underneath. if you pull yourself taller it makes your body longer. it's good for you.

>> yoga and hot epsom salt soak.

>> yeah, anything to increase flexibility in your core.

>> i know, it's making me self-conscious.

>> carson, thank you. viewers thank