Tag Archives: wellness

Back Pain – the Bane of Being Human

by on July 7, 2015

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Back pain can be devastating. Just ask my wife. Prior to our upcoming wedding my wife decided she wanted to get in shape. She joined a gym and, in her zeal, she repeated the weight routine three days in a row. The next day she suffered severe lower back pain which subsequently has besieged her for the past 38 years. (I know this because we just celebrated our 38th anniversary.) Guess who has been destined to be the luggage shlepper and primary grocery shopper in our marriage?

My wife has not been alone in experiencing low back pain. 80% of adults suffer low back pain sometime during their lifetime. In younger people, pain is mostly due to mechanical factors – the interplay of spine, muscles, ligaments, discs, and nerves in the way of they fit together. Low back pain can be triggered by repeated straining such as at a gym, or by a fall or accident, or by a sudden action involving lifting a heavy weight or twisting abruptly. Oddly, a herniated disc can happen spontaneously without a specific injury. In older adults, the most common cause of low back pain is spinal stenosis which means narrowing of the spaces of the spine. With aging, some people develop spurs in their vertebrae, and ligaments around the spine may thicken which together may cause narrowing (stenosis) where the nerves exit the spine. This typically results in pain while standing and walking, and relief by sitting.

Red Flags
While most causes of back pain are not life threatening, there are some warning symptoms that indicate immediate attention is required. These “red flags” include history of trauma, fever, incontinence, history of cancer, unexplained weight loss, long term steroid use, and intense localized pain with inability to find a comfortable position. Coincidently, the reason there why there was a position available when I was hired at Kaiser was because my predecessor had died of back pain due to an epidural abscess, an infection near the spinal cord. While I don’t know the details of his illness, he likely had fever with his back pain, and unfortunately did not appreciate the implication. Life threatening cases of back pain with fever I have treated include pyelonephritis (kidney infection) and endocarditis (heart infection.) Back pain with fever can be a lethal combination.

The inability to find a position of comfort typifies a patient who present with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. For this reason alone, I routinely examine any older patient with back pain for the presence of a pulsating mass in the abdomen. During the course of my career, I have detected two patients with aortic aneurysms. They both were ex-smokers and were overtly grateful since delayed diagnosis is almost always fatal.

A patient with a history of cancer always raises a red flag to me even if the cancer occurred decades prior. The most common types of cancer that spread to bone are breast, prostate, lung, kidney and thyroid. While most doctors have been well educated about not doing unnecessary imaging studies, a patient who has a past history of cancer especially with any history of recent weight loss deserves x-ray evaluation.

When back pain is not spine pain
During the fifteen years I spent working part time in spine clinic at Kaiser, I was amazed the number of times a patient was referred for back pain actually had something other than a spine condition. Two of the most common conditions that can be confused with a spinal disorder especially in older adults include osteoarthritis of the hip and peripheral artery disease (PAD). Hip osteoarthritis can usually be distinguished by performing a hip examination during the visit and by getting hip x-rays. A person with good range of motion of hips does not likely have significant hip arthritis. PAD can usually be determined by checking all the pulses in the legs and feet. The other feature differentiating PAD from spinal stenosis is that patients with PAD do not have pain while standing, while spinal stenosis patients generally do. Sometimes, though, a patient might have more than one condition causing back and/or leg pain in which case more sensitive testing is indicated to evaluate circulation competency and neurological function.

Other causes of low back pain outside the spine include kidney stones, acute pancreatitis, herpes zoster (shingles), endometriosis, and fibromyalgia.

What is the scoop about MRI’s?
A common question from many people with back pain is whether they should get an MRI to pinpoint the cause of their problem. The problem is that most people even without back pain will have an abnormality on an MRI exam. Falsely alarming MRI results in patients who have back pain explain why back surgery in the U.S. is more than twice as high as in other countries. Yes, surgery corrects the problem seen on the MRI but this may be unrelated to the cause of the pain.

Treatment
Treatment of low back pain can vary depending if it is acute or chronic (more than 3 months). There are no hard and fast rules, but generally ice packs are advised for pain within 2-3 days of injury. Heat can help ease subacute or chronic pain. Bed rest after acute injury tends to delay recovery, and it is important to resume normal activity as soon as possible. Physical therapy can help strengthen core muscles that support the spine, but an interesting study from UCLA a few years ago showed that walking three hours a week was more effective than three hours of physical therapy a week. Epidural steroid injections can be given for low back pain associated with sciatica, but a recent NIH study showed that in patients with spinal stenosis who received epidural injections had worse long term outcomes than those who did not receive them. Surgery may be considered in serious injury situations or if there is progressive neurological deterioration. While there appears to be short term benefit in patients who have undergone surgery, long term benefits going out four years and ten years appear to show no clear advantage compared to those who have not had surgery. Although I am not fond of many of the medications advertised for low back pain, sometimes they serve a purpose in helping someone to become more active and exercise once again.

Prevention
Regular exercise is the best way to keep one’s back healthy. My wife has found walking at least 60 minutes a day helps to lessen recurrences of low back pain. She also stretches regularly, and does not wear high heeled shoes. When she is sitting in the car or a chair, she uses a lumbar support called a Sacro-Ease or an inflatable travel pillow. She avoids any significant lifting, but if she does lift something she lifts with bent knees, carries the object close to her, and does not twist. For me, running, biking, and doing yoga at the PJCC keeps my back in shape, but everyone has to find a regimen that works best for them.

Conclusion
While back pain can be disabling, it can also be managed with regular activity and awareness to prevent further damage. Three months ago my wife injured her back again when she missed a step getting out of an elevator while holding one of our granddaughters who impeded her vision. To avoid trauma to our granddaughter, she sacrificed herself by intentionally twisting her spine as she fell. I am happy to say that granddaughter and “Nana” are back in each other’s arms once again.

For further information about low back pain, visit the NIH site.

Jerry Saliman, MD is a volunteer internist at Samaritan House Medical Clinic in San Mateo. He retired from Kaiser South San Francisco after working there more than 30 years. While at Kaiser SSF, Dr. Saliman was also Chief of Patient Education. He received the 2012 “Lifetime Achievement Award” given by the Kaiser SSF Medical Staff.

Editing acknowledgement: Ellen Saliman

Neither the PJCC or our guest columnists provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please make your health care decisions in partnership with your health care provider

 

 

Is Pilates The Secret To Youth?

by on June 29, 2015

Audrey / Pilates

PJCC MEMBER PROFILE: AUDREY GUERIN 

I usually don’t ask people their age, especially if it is a woman. When I met Audrey Guerin I was surprised when her age came up; she is 81. She has such a youthful appearance. I told her I needed to know her secret–and we’re sharing it here with you!

Q:  Audrey, I was surprised to learn your age after seeing your picture and then meeting you in person. What is the secret for how you stay so young?

A:  Age just seems like a number and that number does not define me. I listen to my body to Continue reading

Book Review – Jerusalem: A Cookbook

by on April 30, 2015

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Food in Israel is unique and full of exciting flavors that have come together into a melting pot of centuries of influence from surrounding lands. Bringing the complexity of Jerusalem life to the dinner table, Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem: A Cookbook is as much a social studies lesson as it is a culinary delight.

Though both men were born in Jerusalem in the same year, they come from opposite sides of the city. Tamimi is from the Muslim East Jerusalem and Ottolenghi from Jewish West Jerusalem. Both independently moved to London years ago and that’s where they met, working in the Continue reading

Norovirus – The Winter Bug

by on January 16, 2015

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Thanksgiving weekend 2014 was a time to forget for our family. My wife and I planned for the arrival of our children, their spouses, and four grandchildren for months. One of my granddaughters would Facetime daily to see what toys she would play with when she would eventually visit. The night before Thanksgiving, one son-in-law became acutely ill with a GI bug, and he wasn’t able to go to Thanksgiving dinner. The day after Thanksgiving, two of my daughters became acutely ill. By Thanksgiving weekend, the illness had ravaged through our entire family except for my wife and one granddaughter who was protected through the magic Continue reading

Wellness Coaching. What’s In It For Me?

by on January 6, 2015

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As a wellness coach, I am asked this question on a regular basis. I like to respond by relating the coaching I do to that of any other coach: A coach is someone who can help you make specific improvements to your technique which will add value to your overall game.  A good coach does this by shining a new perspective on an activity or simply holding their pupil accountable to their goals. You use a running coach to improve your running skills and timing. And if you want Continue reading

Strategies For Reinventing Your Resolutions

by on December 31, 2014

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Making, and then breaking, the same promises every year can be exhausting. Jeannie   Solomon, PJCC Wellness Coach, uses helpful strategies to help clients stay on track. Here, she shares her “tools of the trade” to help you reinvent your resolutions and—ultimately—yourself.

Define Your Wellness
Relationships, sleep, exercise, work, and spirituality (to name a few) are all forces that can cause great joy as well as great stress, feeding our energy and vitality. To achieve long-term wellness, Continue reading

Olive Tapenade: Easy to Make & Delicious

by on December 17, 2014

OLIVE TAPENADE RECIPE

Ingredients

1/2 pound pitted mixed olives
1 small clove garlic, minced
2 Tbl. capers
2-3 fresh basil leaves
1 Tbl. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Tbl. extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

  • Thoroughly rinse the olives in cool water.
  • Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor.
  • Process to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl, until mixture becomes a coarse paste, approximately 1-2 minutes total.
  • Transfer to a bowl and serve!

Bon Appetit

 

For more on Olive Oil, listen to our Podcast with the California Olive Oil Council.

In Search Of Sleep

by on November 4, 2014

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But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”  Robert Frost

A relative of mine, Stewart, (not his real name) was driving home from LA, and fell asleep at the wheel. Stewart was 18 years old at the time, and on winter break from college. He drove to LA in the morning, and then, after spending the day there, drove home that night. Although he knew he was drowsy, he made the decision to drive home. The last thing he remembered was listening to a 49er Monday night football game before he dozed off without warning. His new 1996 Toyota Corolla was totaled when the car crashed into a barrier on the side of the highway Continue reading

Cultivating Good Health

by on October 10, 2014

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Any time is a good time to cultivate good health by developing a wellness plan that will help you flourish. Don’t know where to begin? Draw inspiration from your garden and apply the same concepts to your health.

Preparation
Planning your garden is the first step to its success and the same holds true for your health. Buy a notebook and name it your health journal. Begin by writing down two goals that are attainable and aren’t overwhelming. For example, start preparing your afternoon snacks to bring to work instead of buying from the vending machine. This action alone can save you 200 Continue reading

Monkey See, Monkey Do — How Behavioral Modeling Influences Health

by on July 1, 2014

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My 2-year-old granddaughter seemed to welcome her newborn baby sister with bland indifference. I observed her as she played with her blocks and other toys and did not appear to be perturbed by the presence of a new member in her family. After she had dinner, I was surprised when she set out deliberately for the couch, wrapped her mother’s pillow around her lap, lifted her shirt, and clutched her bear to her chest. It was dinner time for her bear! While it was fun to watch her precise imitation of breast feeding, it made me stop and wonder how we as adults subconsciously follow patterns of behavior that may not reach our cognitive awareness. Continue reading

Foodie-ism & Meditation

by on January 15, 2014

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Dear PJCC Friends and Fans,

A hearty welcome to our inaugural PJCC blog issue. We created this digital publication to serve your needs and interests. Our goal is to help you be better informed, educated, and entertained for your greatest health and wellness.

You can count on receiving blog content that includes everything from raising inquisitive, confident children, to caring for your personal wellness, to experiencing the arts and exploring contemporary Jewish themes. We will sprinkle in fun along the way as we know that lightness is a key ingredient for a happy heart and a healthy community. Continue reading