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Complete Guide to a Healthy Back

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The back is literally your bodys support system, made up of more than 30 bones and hundreds of nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. But all those moving parts mean its vulnerable to problems, too. “Women are particularly susceptible to pain because they lug around extra weight every day, from purses and grocery bags to a kid on their hip,” says Heidi Prather, DO, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Plus, many of us have gained weight and lost the time to exercise over the years, weakening our back muscles. Is it any wonder that almost five million women each year see doctors due to low back pain? Luckily, back issues are easier to resolve than you may think. Use this guide to pinpoint whats causing yours, so you get the right treatment, fast—and prevent future flare-ups.

Muscle strains

The lowdown. Muscle strains are actually small tears in, or the stretching out of, muscle fibers. Theyre also the top reason for back pain.

What it feels like. A stiffness or soreness that worsens with activity (including small movements, like bending over to pick something up).

The cause. Any repetitive or jolting movement—or even just sitting. “Women who sit at work hunched over for hours put stress on their backs,” says Jeffrey Goldstein, MD, director of the spine service at the New York University Langone Medical Center. “If they also dont exercise regularly, they lose strength in their back and their core—the muscles which help support their spine. So when they do ramp up their activity, they may pull one or several back muscles.” Another surprising trigger: “Tight hamstrings can exacerbate a strain by putting stress on the low back,” explains Renee Garrison, a physical therapist at the Medical University of South Carolina.

The Rx

  • Every waking hour for the first 24 hours, then every few hours for the next 24: Ice the strain for 15 minutes to reduce swelling. (Heat will only increase inflammation.)

  • Every two hours (at least): “Stretch and move gently,” says Jennifer Solomon, MD, a physiatrist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Lying down may cause the muscle

  • Every four to six hours: Try an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen—take according to package directions.

  • After 48 hours: If pain doesnt improve, call your primary care physician to rule out a more serious condition.

Bulging or herniated disks

The lowdown. When the disks in your spine start to degenerate over time, as they are wont to do, they can bulge out or herniate (meaning theyre ruptured), sometimes compressing the nerves around them.

What it feels like. You may not feel them at all. “Not all herniated disks cause symptoms,” explains Dr. Prather. But if part of the disk protrudes out into the spinal canal, near or touching a nerve, that can bring on back pain that may also radiate down your leg.

The cause. Your bodys normal wear and tear. “Women may report mild back pain in their 20s and 30s, but as they get older and the disks dry out and degenerate further, they can experience more persistent discomfort,” says Jessica Shellock, MD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at the Texas Back Institute.

The Rx. In most cases, pain resolves after 8 to 12 weeks following treatment with OTC or prescription anti-inflammatories and physical therapy. If pain is severe, a cortisone injection, which reduces swelling around the nerve, may help. Beware a doctor who tells you the first and only solution is to go under the knife: “Less than 10% of my patients require surgery,” says Raj Rao, MD, vice chairman of the department of orthopedic surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Normal aging

The lowdown. You already know that your disks may dry out and youre more vulnerable to muscle strains as you age. In addition, Dr. Rao says, over time you may begin to notice early signs of spinal osteoarthritis. Thats when the protective cartilage and joints in your spinal column start to wear down with age, causing bone to grind against bone. (Often affected are the facet joints—those hook-shaped structures that run up and down the back of the spine.) This may lead to the bone bulging out and putting pressure on surrounding nerves.

What it feels like. Spinal osteoarthritis causes serious stiffness accompanied by pain in your lower back that may go down into your butt and upper thighs, as well as up into your shoulders and neck, especially in the early morning after waking up, or when youre bending backwards.

The Rx. Its absolutely crucial to do exercises that will strengthen your back muscles and core now, and to stay active and flexible overall, to give your spine as much support as possible. If youve got even 10 pounds to lose, try to take it off now: “Any extra weight will just put additional strain on worn-out disks and joints,” says Dr. Shellock. You may also require physical therapy, medications, and, in very rare cases, surgery to address problematic disks. If you have pain related to osteoarthritis, injections of both anesthetics and a steroid anti-inflammatory right into the joint can help ease it.

Health & Lifestyle

Sports head injuries Balanced reportage is required – Experts

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A group of more than 60 leading international neuroscientists, including Mark Herceg, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Northwell Health’s Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and a member of The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, published a correspondence today in The Lancet Neurology, asking for balance when reporting on sports-related injury chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). CTE is a type of dementia associated with exposure to repeated concussions, and has been linked with a variety of contact sports such as boxing, football, American football and rugby.



Although CTE is commonly featured in the news media and discussed among peers, the medical community is just beginning to understand how to recognize the disease, guidelines for how to assess its severity have yet to be established.

“We don’t currently have a clear understanding of the link between CTE pathology and any specific symptoms,” noted Dr. Herceg. “It’s important to note to the public at large that CTE is at an early stage of scientific and medical understanding, with many important aspects of the disease yet to be established.”

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“Dr. Herceg and his colleague’s CTE research is timely and impactful as a major step forward to more clearly defining the risk and prevalence of this important syndrome,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute.

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Health & Lifestyle

Mother bags 4 years jail term for drawing son’s blood.

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A Danish court on Thursday sentenced a mother to four years in jail for aggravated abuse for having unnecessarily drawn a half-litre (one pint) of blood from her son weekly for five years.

A trained nurse, the 36-year-old woman began drawing her son’s blood when he was 11 months old, averaging about once a week for the next five years.

The mother said she would not appeal the verdict handed down by the district court in the western town of Herning.



“It’s not a decision that I took consciously. I don’t know when I started doing what I had no right to do. It came gradually. I threw the blood down the toilet and put the syringes in the garbage,” she told the court.

The boy, today aged seven and who lives with his father, suffered an intestinal illness shortly after birth but as the years went by doctors could not explain why he had so little blood in his system.

To remedy the situation, doctors gave him 110 blood transfusions over the years.

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They eventually grew suspicious of the mother, and police began investigating her.

She was arrested in September 2017 carrying a bag of blood.

On social media, she had presented herself as a single mother fighting for her sick son.

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Psychiatric experts told the court they believed the mother suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a rare condition in which a person, usually a mother, fabricates an illness for a dependent and puts them through unnecessary medical treatment.

However, they deemed her healthy enough to go to prison.

She has been barred from the nursing profession.

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