Q & A
Is it possible to have a herniated disc and not know it?
Yes. In a groundbreaking study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, more than half of the pain-free participants had some level of disc herniation. Lesson: Just because an MRI reveals a herniation doesn't mean that a simple lumbar strain isn't the root cause of your back pain. To be safe, get a second opinion from a physician who specializes in backs.
1. CHAIR Recline 10-20 degrees beyond vertical to relieve pressure on discs. Your chair should also provide support from your lower back up to your shoulder blades. For additional support, use a rolled-up towel behind your lower back. Swiss balls are OK for short periods, as they encourage good posture and strengthen torso muscles, but over long intervals they tend to cause slouchingwith no support.
2. HIPS/FEET Distribute weight on as much of your body as possible. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees, your butt as far back as possible, and your feet flat on the floor. Use a footrest if you can't achieve the proper position due to chair or desk height.
3. HANDS Avoid reaching for your keyboard or mouse. You should be able to place your hands comfortably in your lap and then raise them a few inches to reach both keyboard and mouse.
4. MONITOR The top of your monitor should be at eye level. Make sure you can read the screen easily and that it's not backlit.
5. UPPER BODY You should be reclining with your head, neck, and shoulders in line with your torso and relaxedbeware of too-high armrests that keep your shoulders shrugged.
Row This Way
If you use an erg, or rowing machine, you already know it delivers one of the most grueling workouts you can get on a piece of stationary exercise equipment. But a study published in The American Journal of Sports Medicine in 2002 found a correlation between rowing an erg for more than 30 minutes and back injury. Dr. Timothy Hosea, the team physician for the U.S. Rowing Team, says to follow these rules for a safe and effective workout.
1. Maintain proper technique (back straight, abs engaged)
2. Stick to a high-stroke, low-resistance workout (22-24 strokes/minute)
3. Get off and stretch if rowing for more than 20 minutes
Build a Better Back
For some injuries, the only remedy is spinal-fusion surgery, which alleviates pain but decreases flexibilitya result of cementing two vertebrae together. Until now. New artificial discs and other products may enable today's patients to enter limbo competitions. In October 2004, Charité became the first artificial disc approved by the FDA; ProDisc-L was given the green light last August. "It's definitely the most exciting area in terms of spine surgery today," says Dr. Richard Guyer, president of the North American Spine Society.