“Love Your Spine” - Tips for Better Spine Health

On World Spine Day, NewYork-Presbyterian’s spine surgeons offer tips on how to recognize and be proactive about spine injuries

Oct 16, 2018

New York

Transparent body with highlighted spine

Back pain is one of the most common reasons that Americans call in sick to work, with total costs in the United States exceeding $100 billion every year. Spinal disorders such as back pain, neck pain, scoliosis, stenosis, and disc disease are common and can have a severe effect on a person’s overall health in a variety of ways — from impacting a person's ability to enjoy everyday activities and work to disrupting healthy sleep patterns. In recognition of World Spine Day, spine surgeons at the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian offer tips on how to be proactive about spine health.

"The back is a complex structure with many delicate parts, but with good judgment and healthy lifestyle habits — including proper lifting, good posture and exercise — it's possible to avoid common back pain caused by strained muscles," says Dr. Lawrence Lenke, surgeon-in-chief and director of spinal deformity surgery at the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian and professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “For more complicated spinal problems such as scoliosis, stenosis, fractures or injuries from trauma, medical intervention is usually necessary for effective treatment, but each person with or without spinal problems can benefit from adopting healthier lifestyle habits to keep your spine as strong as possible.”

The vast majority of patients with lower-back pain improve by avoiding pain-provoking activities. Back pain is usually caused by strain or sprain of muscles, ligaments or soft tissue. Also, patients aren’t encouraged to stay in their bed for longer than 48 hours, as lack of activity can delay recovery.

Here, Drs. Lenke, Ronald Lehman, Jr, K. Daniel Riew, and Peter D. Angevine from the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital offer suggestions to help prevent back pain.

Back Pain Prevention Tips

Exercise and Wellness

  • Regular cardiovascular exercise can make injury less likely.
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises can increase back and abdomen flexibility.
  • Get up and walk around every 15-30 minutes if you have a sedentary, sitting job. 
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and don't smoke.

Good Posture

  • Maintain good posture even while sitting. Don't slouch or hold your head too far forward.
  • In good sitting alignment, the feet are supported, the hips are level with or slightly above the knees, the spine is slightly reclined, and a small arch in the lower back is maintained. 
  • If sitting at a computer, the shoulders are relaxed and away from the ears, the elbows are by the sides, bent to about 90 degrees, the wrists are neutral (not bent up, down, or away from each other) and the head is facing front without protruding forward.
  • If using a mobile phone or tablet for non-voice activities, hold it up instead of bending your neck to look down. The more you look down at a mobile phone or tablet, the more the muscles have to work to keep your head up. At just 45 degrees, your neck muscles are doing the work of lifting a 50 lb. bag of potatoes.

 Proper Lifting

  • When lifting an object, make sure it is properly balanced and packed correctly so the object’s weight won't shift when lifted. Keep the weight close to your body.
  • Take your time lifting. Rushing will strain your muscles.
  • Bend at the hips and knees, not the lower back. Maintain proper posture with your back straight and head up. Use your legs to lift.

For those with more complex spinal problems such as scoliosis, myelopathy, neck or low back nerve impingement, chronic sciatica, stenosis or vertebral fractures, surgeons from the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital recommend getting an immediate medical assessment. Individuals who have back injuries due to severe trauma also are advised to seek professional medical help.

Indications that a serious injury has occurred include abnormal bowel or bladder function, bilateral sciatica (pain down both legs), significant nocturnal pain, weight loss, fever and severe pain. Symptoms such as loss of balance or dexterity, constant numbness or weakness could also indicate neurological issues. In these cases, patients are referred for a diagnostic workup that may include X-ray, MRI and CT scan. When a diagnosis is made, treatment can include physical therapy, complementary medicine (acupuncture, magnetic therapy, herbal medications and more) and surgery for serious conditions.

"We offer all of the latest state-of-the-art microsurgical and minimally invasive surgical (MIS) options for treatment of spinal conditions,” says Dr. Ronald Lehman, Jr., director of degenerative and minimally invasive spine surgery at the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian and tenured professor of orthopedic surgery at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. “These techniques have improved the safety and efficiency with which patients with spinal disorders are treated."

For more information or to request an appointment, call 212-543-8862 or visit www.nyp.org/spinehospital.

To learn how to prevent technology-related neck and shoulder pain, visit: https://healthmatters.nyp.org/how-to-prevent-tech-neck/

To learn how advancements from the Daniel and Jane Och Spine Hospital at NewYork-Presbyterian attract patients from all over the world, visit: https://healthmatters.nyp.org/spine-hospital/


NewYork-Presbyterian is one of the nation’s most comprehensive, integrated academic healthcare delivery systems, whose organizations are dedicated to providing the highest quality, most compassionate care and service to patients in the New York metropolitan area, nationally, and throughout the globe. In collaboration with two renowned medical schools, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, NewYork-Presbyterian is consistently recognized as a leader in medical education, groundbreaking research and innovative, patient-centered clinical care.

NewYork-Presbyterian has four major divisions:

  • NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital is ranked #1 in the New York metropolitan area by U.S. News and World Report and repeatedly named to the Honor Roll of “America’s Best Hospitals.”
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Regional Hospital Network comprises hospitals and other facilities in the New York metropolitan region.
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Physician Services, which connects medical experts with patients in their communities.
  • NewYork-Presbyterian Community and Population Health, encompassing ambulatory care network sites and community healthcare initiatives, including NewYork Quality Care, the Accountable Care Organization jointly established by NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medicine and Columbia.

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Media Contact:

Maxine Mitchell 212-821-0565