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Johns Hopkins Health - Beating Back Pain

Winter 2009
Issue No. 3

Beating Back Pain

Date: January 24, 2009


About 80 percent of us will experience back pain in our lives. How do you know when it’s really time to see a doctor?

Bad posture and bad habits, even a simple cough or sneeze, can throw more than your back out of whack. Back pain costs Americans about $100 billion in medical bills, disability and lost productivity each year.

But of the 80 percent of people who have back-pain episodes, 90 percent of them won’t require surgery or long-term treatment, says Johns Hopkins neurosurgeon Ali Bydon, M.D.

“When it’s lower back pain, most of the time we’re talking about something related to poor standing or sitting posture, lifting improperly or sudden movements that cause muscle spasms,” Bydon says.

For the other 10 percent of folks, among the most likely problems is lumbar—or low-back—disc herniation. Other conditions might include arthritis or cancer.

It’s important to be aware of the red flags. First, a loss of bladder or bowel control requires immediate medical attention, Bydon says. If you’ve had low-back pain for longer than three months, you’ll want to consult a spine specialist. Accompanying leg or buttock pain that lasts more than a couple of months may indicate a nerve root compression. If there are other symptoms such as chronic back pain in your thoracic—or middle—region, pain with motion or difficulty urinating, you should be evaluated as soon as possible.

“It’s important that we pinpoint what’s generating the pain,” Bydon says. “Neurosurgeons do that via clinical exams, patient history and imaging techniques.”

Advances in MRI are making those identifications more accurate than ever. And when surgery is the best next step, Johns Hopkins is among the few hospitals offering minimally invasive options as an alternative to traditional open procedures.

Did You Know?

  • Herniated discs are most common in people ages 35 to 55.
  • Regular exercise and good posture can help avoid back pain.
  • Obesity and smoking can contribute to disc pressure and herniation.

To learn more about solutions for back pain, visit or call 877-546-1872.

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