Veterans have back problems at much higher rates than the general population. One recent study found that 80 percent of veterans had experienced daily back pain for more than a year.
Ken Hansraj, M.D., an orthopedic spine surgeon in New York, told AARP Veteran Report that a former Marine patient had “pointed out the decades of bending, lifting, twisting and reaching — training for years with hundred-pound backpacks” that accounted for his pain.
The Marine had told him, “A true warrior doesn't dare complain about these unflattering issues, because we signed on to do a job few can.”
Sometimes avoiding treatment comes from a fear of major surgery, hesitancy around alternative medicine options or a lack of education on the impact of doing nothing. It doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s how to tackle back issues.
Change your posture
When your mom would get on your case about not slouching, she had a point. In his book Watch Your Back, Hansraj explains that posture is key to easing back pain.
“Researchers have found a link between poor posture and depression, and many experts believe stooping and slouching could be associated with weight gain, heartburn, migraines, anxiety and respiratory conditions,” he said.
Proper posture is defined as ears aligned with the shoulders and shoulder blades retracted. In proper alignment, spinal stress is diminished.
If you are sitting, place both feet parallel to the floor by uncrossing your legs or ankles. Pull your shoulders back, and make sure your chin is not down by your neck but up parallel with the floor. Sit up with a straight spine.
You can also set an alarm to remind yourself to periodically get up and walk around. This will prevent you from slouching into a not-so-ideal posture for extended periods of time while sitting.
In addition, exercise, using an ergonomic work chair,and sitting up straight while driving can help retrain your body into maintaining proper posture.
It might seem counterintuitive when you are in pain, but movement and exercise are often the antidote to chronic back pain. Rahul Shah, M.D., , an orthopedic spine and neck surgeon, told AARP Veteran Report that modifying your movements can mean exercise without pain.