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Science
CASE NOTES
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Tuesday 21:00-21:30
Repeat Wednesday 16:30
Dr Graham Easton gives listeners the low-down on what the medical profession does and doesn't know. Each week an expert in the studio tackles a particular topic and there are reports from around the UK on the health of the nation - and the NHS.
radioscience@bbc.co.uk
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 3 December
PRESENTER
DR GRAHAM EASTON
Dr Graham Easton
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Tuesday 3 December 2002
Backs

Back Pain

According to a recent survey, nearly half of us suffer at least one day of back pain a year - anything from a gnawing ache to acute crippling pain and weeks or months off work. The costs to society are huge. In 1998, the direct health care costs alone were estimated at £1.6 billion. So why are getting so much back pain, what can we do to protect our backs, and how can the health professionals help? This week Case Notes gives you a guide to your back and how to look after it.

Presenter Dr Graham Easton offers a quick tour of your back and asks his expert guest what we know about the causes of back pain. Most “bad backs” are down to muscle pulls or sprains – damage to the ligaments or muscles that line the spine. It might just have been an awkward movement that you can’t even remember. Sometimes back pain is due to a “slipped disc” (the shock absorbers in between each vertebra in your spine) – part of the disc might press on a nearby nerve. Other causes of back pain are rare, including ankylosing spondylitis (inflammation), fractures or infection. We hear the latest advice on preventing common causes of back pain, including exercises, correct seating, and lifting safely.

Graham and his guest examine the evidence behind some of the common approaches to dealing with bad backs. The first thing to say is that, given time, most acute back pain gets better on its own, without any interference from the professionals. But what about those symptoms? The latest thinking is that simple anti-inflammatories (like ibuprofen) are often more use than stronger pain killers, and contrary to popular opinion, resting in bed for days on end is often the worst thing you can do. There’s also good evidence that for straightforward back pain, an X-ray hardly ever helps – even if the pain has lasted for six weeks.

Graham visits an osteopath to see what it involves, and finds out how useful manipulation of the spine can be – whether by osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist. There’s also a report from a specialist back rehabilitation centre, where back strengthening exercises and psychological coping techniques are being used to great effect. Finally, Graham visits spinal surgeon Lester Wilson to find out which back conditions need surgery – and watches Lester as he talks us through one of his delicate spinal operations.
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