No matter your gender, back pain can be one of the most frustrating medical conditions around. And though we often talk about how it affects people in general, it’s necessary sometimes to point out the differences in how back pain presents itself, sometimes uniquely, in men and women. With June as Men’s Health Month, this is a great time to discuss some things you might not know about back pain’s effect on men and, more importantly, how men, and those who love them, can help outsmart old Father Time and stop back pain before it starts.
Although back pain is among the most common causes of pain and disability in America today, men typically report a greater frequency of pain in the lower back than women. This type of back pain, medically called lumbar spine pain, can result from several injuries or conditions but most often relates to muscle strains caused by lifting heavy objects, prolonged sitting, or intense sporting activities. If you are a man who is prone to low back pain, it is imperative to begin to use proper lifting techniques whenever you must pick up something heavy (bend at the knees, lift with the legs, don’t stoop over the object, and when possible, get help if the item is bulky or extremely heavy). Likewise, if extreme sporting events are the likely low back pain trigger, remember that even a short warm-up and stretching beforehand can save you a world of hurt after that friendly “touch” football or pickup basketball game with family or friends.
Interestingly, other lesser-discussed conditions can sometimes trigger back pain in men. These include arthritis, sleep disturbances like sleep apnea, shingles, and kidney disorders like infections and stones. In many cases, back pain can be the symptom of a problem that has nothing to do with the spine. So, it is always essential for men to get checked out when there’s an issue. This also feels like the right place to place a plug about the annual physical. Statistics indicate that women are typically more proactive about preventative health measures like yearly checkups than men. Gentlemen, there are so many health conditions that can be addressed simply and more quickly when they are identified early. Make the annual physical a priority. You can thank me for the advice later on.
Of course, not every incidence of back pain is related to something you’re doing to cause it. From nerve compression caused by bulging spinal discs to scoliosis and even spinal fractures, these conditions can result from regular wear and tear over time or, in the case of scoliosis, from a congenital (present at birth) spinal deformity that causes pain later in life. Even so, men can do plenty of things to reduce their risk of back pain.
Regular exercise, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and a focus on adequate sleep are fantastic ways to keep the body and spine healthy. If you or another important man in your life is a smoker, quitting for good can help reduce back pain throughout a lifetime. The chemicals present in cigarettes can harm the body’s circulatory system and may result in back pain for many people (not only men) when this happens. Also, if you or the man you care about is overweight, that’s another unnecessary cause of back pain that can be remedied with even small reductions in weight. Our bodies were designed to carry a certain amount of body weight, and when there’s too much, the spine often pays the price – and it lets you know of its unhappiness as soon as you crawl out of bed.
If you or the man you care about has been experiencing back pain for more than a few weeks and it hasn’t resolved with conservative treatments like rest, over-the-counter medication, or stretching, it might be time to see a spine specialist to get to the bottom of it. Figuring out the cause sooner rather than later can save you a world of hurt and more formidable problems to treat later on.