Back pain affects approximately eight out of ten adults at some point in their lives. The question, for many, is not “if” but “when” back pain may strike. We recently sat down with Michael McNamara, M.D., an orthopaedic surgeon at Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee, to learn more about what can be done to both prevent and recover from back pain.
WS: How does core strength correlate with back pain?
Dr. McNamara: Spinal alignment is very important, and the core maintains spinal alignment. Core strength can prevent injuries. Strengthening the core can help back pain go away and can be used to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
WS: Who should be concerned about core health?
Dr. McNamara: Everybody. It’s one of the most important things for good health. It’s something we all should be trying to do throughout our day, especially as we age. Core strengthening after surgery is especially important for low back pain.
WS: What are some indicators that patients should come to see you?
Dr. McNamara: Unrelenting back pain that doesn’t go away, especially if accompanied by some leg pain. The leg pain – if it doesn’t go away – usually means there’s some kind of nerve pinch.
Most back pain will get better with time and will resolve. In fact, 99% of back pain with or without leg pain will get better in three months. It does take time. Working on the core helps speed up the recovery process and can help protect from further injury.
WS: If someone is having back trouble, how do you advise them to strengthen their core?
Dr. McNamara: First of all, you’ve got to understand what the core is. When we talk about core strengthening, we’re talking about strengthening muscles from the neck to the knees. It’s not just doing situps or crunches.
The plank is the number one exercise I recommend. There are many variations, side planks and rotational planks being a few of the more common ones. The simple plank is where I get patients to start. Then, I may recommend they add in some bridges and birddogs. The plank is a simple, at-home exercise. No equipment or gym membership required.
WS: Tell us about the role physical therapy may play in helping someone build core strength.
Dr. McNamara: Whenever we refer a patient to physical therapy for their lower back, they’re going to work on core strength. Physical therapists are going to teach the patient a series of exercises to build their core, starting with the basics and getting to core strengthening.
WS: What do you enjoy most about your work?
Dr. McNamara: Getting patients to understand the importance of core strength and buy into the concept. This type of rehab is not a fast fix, but it’s a much more permanent fix. If we can get a patient to understand this and do the exercises, they’re often feeling better and are stronger even after just a couple of weeks. They’re getting an active lifestyle, and that’s fun.
Back Pain Treatment at Bone and Joint Institute of Tennessee
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