Taking frequent breaks to move about during the workday is a leading defense against back pain. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It could be working around the house.

It could be sitting at a computer all day.

Or maybe jumping into a new sport or recreational activity.

Suddenly, your back is killing you.

Research shows that 90% of people will have back pain at some point in their lives and 25% will have had it in the last three months, according to Jacob Reisner, DO, an orthopedic sports medicine doctor with Spectrum Health.

The good news? There is help available.

“One of the best treatments, the thing we have the best evidence for is physical therapy,” Dr. Reisner said.

Spectrum Health physical therapists Srikanth “Sri” Nallan Chakravarthi and Arben “Ben” Mandija treat a steady stream of people of all ages with back pain—some with acute injuries and others with chronic pain—at Spectrum Health Outpatient Rehabilitation at 4600 Breton Road.

“Back pain is a common issue,” Mandija said. “It’s as common as the common cold.”

What are their tips for fending off back pain? Here are three:

1. Frequent movement during the day

“What we teach from a prevention standpoint, for a healthy back and body, is ‘movement is life,’” Mandija said.

This became harder during the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced many people to work at home—perhaps in work stations that are not as ergonomically correct—and with less walking to, from and around the office.

“It’s not that sitting is altogether bad,” Nallan Chakravarthi said. “It’s how do we sit and how long do we sit?”

They encourage people working at a desk all day to take frequent breaks—“movement snacks,” as they call them—that involve either standing, stretching or walking around.

Do this every 30 minutes.

Also do research to ensure your work station is set up for good posture and good ergonomics. A physical therapist can help with this as well.

2. Exercise regularly

Keeping your body healthy with regular exercise also can help fight back pain.

“Frequent movement in multiple directions is best,” Nallan Chakravarthi said. “Give the body a lot of movement in many planes of motion.”

That can come from a sport like tennis, racquetball or pickleball—or any activity you enjoy, including walking, running, biking, swimming or martial arts.

“It’s finding something that gives us physical activity that also interests us,” he said. “It may be something you want to do as a family.”

Dr. Reisner said variety in your exercise regimen can help. Strength training can help maintain a strong core—abdominal and back muscles. He also encourages anyone starting a new exercise to start easy and build up in intensity over time.

“Where I see a lot of people get into trouble is the first nice day of the year they get out and do a lot of activity and then the next day they pay for it,” Dr. Reisner said.

3. Get help sooner than later

If you do experience back pain, medical professionals recommend getting help early.

That could greatly reduce the complexity and cost of medical care needed down the line, Mandija said.

“If the patient can come to see us quickly, then oftentimes the more simplistic approaches to treatment can work to produce positive outcomes,” he said. “Early movement and resumption of activities reduces disability from back pain.”

Each patient receives one-on-one care, allowing the physical therapists to develop an individualized plan suited to them.

“It’s not just cookie-cutter exercises for back pain,” Nallan Chakravarthi said. “We give them a customized plan to help work on their unique factors.”

Dr. Reisner said that while medication can help deal with acute pain, treatments such as physical therapy can address the root problem, and hopefully prevent future flare-ups.

Getting help with back pain early on can also help determine if there’s something more serious going on.

A medical professional will look for red flags such as muscle weakness, changes in bowel function or bladder incontinence, unexplained weight loss or fever, chills or night sweats, Dr. Reisner said.

Nallan Chakravarthi and Mandija said that while patients may refer themselves for physical therapy, some insurance companies require a physician’s prescription for physical therapy in order for the sessions to be covered by insurance.

While many patients come to them with acute pain that can be treated more quickly, they also offer a chronic pain management program called Functional Rehabilitation at the 4600 Breton Road outpatient facility.

It’s designed for patients with chronic pain, who perhaps have not found relief with other treatments.

Regardless of the patient’s pain, chronic or acute, their goal is to get people better.

“We want to teach what they can do to restore function as quickly as possible so they can get back to what they love to do,” Mandija said.