According to the National Institute of Health, 8 out of 10 of adults will have low back pain at some time in thier lives.

Surprisingly, 90 percent of low back pain is idiopathic, or not attributable to anything.

Yet, at times this nonspecific low back pain interrupts our sleep and limits our ability to perform everyday tasks.

Whether it’s called a muscle strain or a bulging disc, low back pain is generally a natural result of aging, lasting from one day to six weeks.

Low back pain is rarely related to serious underlying conditions, but when these conditions do occur, they require immediate medical attention.

In my case, I had a sequestered disc where a piece of the disc material floats free and hits the spinal nerve roots.

Although, it was scary, debilitating, and I loss some function, medical interventions including physical therapy worked and I did not need spinal surgery.

The American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society released guidelines on the diagnosis and treatment of low back pain.

These guidelines emphasize that doctors focus on patient history and a physical examination to determine the risks for chronic, disabling back pain.

Chronic low back pain is usually defined by symptoms lasting two months or more.

Diagnostics like magnetic resonance imaging and consultation with an orthopedic spine surgeon is recommended for chronic pain when severe or progressive neurologic deficits are present or when serious underlying conditions are suspected.

If you have a back injury on the job, report it to obtain worker’s compensation.

The Family Medical Leave Act also provides eligible employees up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for medical conditions.

Vocational rehabilitation services may help with training for a new occupation if you cannot continue to work at the same job.

An individual has a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act if he or she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.

If asked, an employer has a responsibility under the ADA to provide accommodations that let the employee do their job unless it would require significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

Many accommodations are as simple as allowing an employee to stand, walk or stretch.

Other solutions might include part-time work from home or reassignment to a vacant position.

Social Security disability and private insurance benefits may be approved if you are unable to work because of a chronic condition lasting six or more months.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke recommends back pain sufferers to not seek bed rest and begin stretching exercises and normal daily activities as soon as possible.

Ask your doctor for a physical therapy referral to strengthen core muscle groups, improve mobility and flexibility, as well as recommending medications to relieve pain.

Other treatments include:

• manipulation by professionally licensed specialists such as chiropractors, naprapaths and massage therapists;

• acupuncture may help to reduce pain;

• occupational therapy to increase activities for daily living;

• yoga helps bodily postures to increase flexibility;

• body inversion equipment for passive stretching;

• rollers and therapy balls for self-message;

• back pillows are lumbar support for sitting and sleeping;

• dieting and keeping weight under control especially the mid-section;

• put your wallet in your front pocket and lighten up purses and backpacks;

• stop smoking. Research suggests a link between smoking and chronic back pain;

• aerobic exercise by taking short walks on level surfaces and gradually increasing distance and time;

• applying ice the first 48 hours and using a heating pad set on low. Some experts recommend switching back and forth between heat and cold.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center, 800-949-4232. He can be reached at

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