The global burden of low back pain is greater than cancer, stroke, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease combined. Spine Health Awareness Month in October aims to draw attention to the huge problem of spinal disorders around the world and in our own backyard—and to the importance of spine health and wellness, including good posture, regular physical activity and spine-friendly working conditions.
For some, spine-related pain can be severe and disabling, interfering with their ability to work. But there are plenty of actions you can take to protect your spine at every age and stage. Topmost among these? Stay strong, quit smoking and keep moving!
When asked to respond to patients’ FAQs, Dr. Nasser Ayyad, an assistant professor of clinical rehabilitation medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and an interventional spine and rehab specialist at Weill Cornell’s Center for Comprehensive Spine Care, starts by listing the three most common spinal conditions he encounters in his practice:
My first step is to take a thorough history of a patient’s chief complaint. I strive to understand the patient’s medical, surgical, social and exercise history.
Next, I conduct a complete physical examination that includes how a patient stands and walks, and a neurological exam during which I check muscle strength, sensation and range of motion.
Sometimes, imaging is required to confirm or further define a patient’s diagnosis. The first image I order is usually an X-ray of the spine, followed by a CT or MRI to evaluate the spinal cord, nerves, joints or particular aspects of the spine.
Let’s start with the milder forms of therapy and work our way up to surgical treatment.
One exciting development in the field is orthobiologics, which is part of regenerative medicine. Orthobiologic treatment uses tissue found in human blood—fat, bone marrow or blood cells themselves—to treat an injury.
This novel approach may be able to ease musculoskeletal pain and discomfort and promote the body’s ability to heal. Two orthobiologic treatments of great interest at Weill Cornell are platelet-rich plasma injections (PRP) and bone marrow aspirate concentrate (BMAC). Both of these have shown promise in treating such disparate conditions as arthritic knee pain, multiple sclerosis and erectile dysfunction.
However, orthobiologic treatments haven’t fully “arrived.” To ensure that they fulfill their promise and to maximize safety, we need to develop a deeper understanding of the basic science of stem cells and educate ourselves on the risks and benefits of cell-based treatments.
A holistic approach to care entails building a partnership with a patient, taking into account all the variables that influence their health and wellness. That includes their mind, body and spirit along with their specific activities and life goals. The “whole patient” model gives me all the information I need to shape their treatment plan, which may incorporate any or all of the following:
Pain is a many-faceted experience—one that’s related to a specific injury or issue but that is also influenced by a person’s genetic, developmental, familial, psychological, social and cultural background and history. A patient’s mood, for example, can significantly alter the intensity of their experience of pain. Treating pain requires an accurate diagnosis of the patient’s injury or condition, as well as a clear picture of all the possible contributing factors.
Cardiovascular exercise such as brisk walking or moderate running improves blood flow, promotes the health of your discs—the shock absorbers of your spine—and strengthens all the muscles that support your spine.
Strength training improves bone mineral density, which, in turn, decreases the risk and rate of fracture.
These modalities help build both strength and flexibility.
Calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins B12 and D3, and adequate amounts of protein are among the nutritional elements required for a healthy spine. Choose a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, colorful root vegetables (for example, beets, carrots and yams), lowfat dairy products and foods rich in vitamin D such as fish, portobello mushrooms and eggs.
And remember: “Motion is Lotion.” Stay strong and flexible, and move as much as possible!
If you’re having spine-related pain or other problem, make an appointment to see a Weill Cornell spine care specialist.