Q&A Topic: Preventing Chronic Back Pain – Starting Today…

Marshal D. Peris, MD, FAAOS

Q:  What are the symptoms of chronic back pain?

A: Chronic back pain usually affects your lower back, also called the lumbar spine. Physicians define “chronic” as daily back pain for more than three months. The pain can be intense enough to affect all aspects of your life – from work to sleep. That’s why prevention is so important.

Q: What causes chronic lower back pain?

A: It’s most often caused by either chronic strain of the muscles supporting the lower spine, arthritis of the lumbar spine, or disc degeneration that may put pressure on nearby nerves. The number one risk factor is smoking.  Older people and those who are overweight also experience more back pain.  So do manual laborers and people who sit while working. A recent or old back injury can trigger pain. Injured spinal discs can accelerate the normal spinal disc degeneration that occurs with age. And painful arthritis can occur in the joints of the back of the lumbar spine independent of or related to disc degeneration.

Q: How can I help prevent chronic back pain?

A: Immediately stop smoking. Maintain your proper weight. Embark on a program of regular aerobic exercise, whether swimming, walking, using the elliptical machine, biking, or any combination of these.  Be active for 30 to 45 minutes, three to four times a week. Discuss with your physician or a physical therapist how to tailor your workouts so they offer maximum lower back protection. Also essential is exercise that targets and strengthens the muscles around your midsection.

Make sure to sleep well. While sitting, don’t slouch, and change your position frequently. Movement lubricates your joints and changes the area of stress. The best chair is one you can raise and lower and that has a tilt feature that lets you lean back with support.  If your feet are asymmetrical, shoe orthotics can help prevent lower back pain by aligning the foot anatomy, which evens out the stress on your back.

Q:  Why is my lower back so prone to injury?

A: In the area between your rib cage and hips, five vertebrae and five discs hold up your entire body, with only muscles and ligaments for support. In addition, the lumbar spine’s great range of motion often gets us into trouble. Bending at the waist instead of with the knees and hips puts excess stress on the discs and spine-supporting ligaments, injuring these parts.

Q: What are my treatment options?

A: Non-surgical treatment for chronic back pain is highly effective. This typically starts with physical therapy and an in-home regimen. Steroid injections may be recommended to reduce pain. Surgery is rarely necessary. It consists either of a decompression, which frees pinched nerves; fusion, which eliminates a herniated disc and locks together the vertebrae above and below; or a combination.

At Northern Westchester Hospital, we can dramatically reduce chronic lower back pain so you can live a fully normal life. But prevention is the best medicine of all. 

Learn More About Dr. Peris
Co-Director, Spine Surgery
Orthopedic and Spine Institute
Northern Westchester Hospital

Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health.


Read Past Topics from Dr. Peris: 
Scoliosis and Lateral Spine Fusion
Cervical Spine Disc Replacement 
Cervical Stenosis

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