A recent study shows that Americans spent $134 billion on treatments for neck and lower back pain in the decade between 1996 and 2016*. That’s more than Americans spend on treatments for diabetes or heart disease. Why do we suffer from so much neck and lower back pain? Robert Miller, MD, neurosurgeon with New England Neurological Associates says it’s several things: we’re living longer and sitting more. In fact, Dr. Miller says that most of us sit so long at our desks staring at screens that it constitutes a repetitive task injury.
The Risks of Repetitive Sitting
Our bodies are designed to be active, not live 70 or 80 years in a sedentary position. We are engineered to walk, run, bend, reach, and be constantly on the move. Going against that biological design can take its toll, as anyone with neck or back pain can tell you. Poor posture at the computer or while playing video games at home for hours at a time is the main culprit causing neck and lower back pain. As you sit at your desk reading this on your monitor, smart phone, tablet or other mobile device) , check how you are sitting. If your neck is protruding forward with your head pushed back, your back is rounded, and/or your legs are crossed, you are impeding the muscles and joints in your neck and back. The more we sit poorly, the more we injure those parts of our bodies causing the repetitive injury.
What do we do about it?
Fortunately, there are easy solutions to prevent neck and back pain.
1. When sitting at your computer or video game console, take a break everyone 30 minutes. Stand up, stretch, and walk. Give your body a chance to uncurl. This will help realign your neck and spine and help to prevent pain. Stand up straight as if a metal pole ran from the top of your head to your feet.
2. Simple exercises can help alleviate the muscle and joint pain in the neck and low back. These can be learned online with simple tutorials through smartphone apps focused on physical therapy and fitness.
3. Over the counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammation medications can help to address neck and back pain.
4. Prescribed and directed Physical therapy at home can be effective as well.
5. Nutrition: Diet plays a big role in the inflammation signals that the body sends out. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet can help to reduce pain from many different types of inflammation. Try to incorporate these guidelines into your weekly diet, but always check first with your provider:
a. Eat leafy greens like kale, and spinach, also high in vitamin K
b. Eat fatty fish like salmon and tuna
c. Drink coffee
d. Eliminate refined sugar and fried foods
When to seek treatment
If the home remedies above aren’t helping to reduce the pain, and it’s not being addressed with regular, proper stretching or OTC medications, you should seek medical treatment to make sure the pain isn’t the result of a serious condition or injury. Whenever pain persists, it’s time to see a doctor.
Written by Dr. Robert Miller
US Health Care Spending by Payer and Health Condition, 1996-2016 | Health Care Economics, Insurance, Payment | JAMA | JAMA Network