Exercise, regular care regimen can alleviate back and joint pain

by Laura Bednar

Most applications for manual labor positions include a section asking if the applicant can sit, stand, bend, kneel, crouch and stretch without issue for long periods of time. Whether someone is new to the field or a veteran, there are some things on that list that are harder to do than others.

Dr. A. Paul Gazzillo, a University Hospitals physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation, orthopedic spine, said the most common types of pain he sees from manual labor positions are in the lower back, neck, shoulder and hip.

That’s because the workers put excessive wear and tear on their lower back discs, muscles and ligaments, according to Dr. Andrew Brady from Spine Integrative Wellness in Hudson.

Employees of all ages can experience these types of pain, with younger people experiencing more acute injuries like sprains, strains and bulging discs in the back.

“Age and pain are not synonymous; the only thing age has to do with it, is that the longer something goes being dysfunctional, the more likely it is to cause pain,” Brady said.

Gazzillo added that for older pain patients, surgery does not have to be inevitable as “everyone has some degree of degenerative changes [in their body].”

Gazzillo has a five-pronged approach for patients with spine or joint pain. First, give the muscle or afflicted area time to breathe and wait before jumping into treatment. Second, partake in physical therapy of some sort like massage, heat or ice. Third, use an anti-inflammatory medication like Tylenol or over-the-counter products like topical ointments or a lidocaine patch. Fourth, try a steroid injection like cortisone. Surgery is the final option, but only if needed.

Brady said that most medications are geared towards symptoms rather than resolving the root cause of the pain.

“We not only address spinal misalignments and how those might be interfering with someone’s health, but our care plans address lifestyle factors that are known to cause chronic illness and disease,” he said. “Regular chiropractic care is so important to prevent pain associated with a degenerated spine or joints.”

Chiropractic visits and traditional treatments like injections and medication are generally covered by insurance. “However, they usually do not cover for wellness or maintenance care,” said Brady.

Both doctors recommended exercise as a way to combat pain, even in an occupation where motion is constant. Stretching before the beginning of the workday, plank exercises for core muscles, biking, swimming and low impact aerobic workouts can help, according to Gazzillo. Brady added lunges, body-weight squats and push-ups to the list as well.

These exercises will create a “natural back support” according to Gazzillo.

So what should you avoid in the workplace?

Don’t perform a repetitive activity for long periods of time, but if you must, do so with the best possible form. Bend at the waist, keep your spine in a neutral position and lift with the legs. Even those at a desk job should not sit for long periods of time because it “creates muscle tension, dehydrates the discs in your spine and creates joint dysfunction,” said Brady.

Gazzillo also said that any medications should not be taken on a long-term basis, and that goes for back braces and compression sleeves as well, as people can become reliant on them. Don’t take on a task that you know causes pain, instead delegate it to another employee. Gazzillo also said to avoid overtaxing the body by using proper equipment and adjusting your technique.

In addition to exercise and working smarter, not harder, maintaining good health with a proper diet and vitamins is a good base to work from when combatting joint and muscle pain. ∞