back pain ache

Back Pain Basics and Prevention

"Ow, my aching back!”

So you overdid it, playing with your kids. Or you lugged a heavy object up the stairs, or you tried a new machine at the gym. The next day, your lower back hurts so much, you don’t even think you can get out of bed.

Sound familiar?

About 80% of people experience back pain at some point during their lives. Back pain is an equal opportunity afflicter, striking both men and women. The good news is that most back pain is temporary, lasting just a few days (even if those few days are agonizing).

There are many different causes of back pain, and many different types of back pain. We’re going to go over some of the basics, including what to do when it strikes and how you can hopefully prevent it from coming back.

Causes of Back Pain

Woman Carrying a Box

Most low back pain is caused when the structures of your back (the bony parts of the spine, the muscles that protect it, the discs, and the nerves that flow through them) aren’t working together correctly. During our daily routines, we often ask weak muscles to work harder than they should. This can result in sprains or strains, which can cause painful back spasms.

Another common cause of back pain comes from your intervertebral discs. These are the jelly-like ‘shock absorbers’ that fit between your vertebra. As we age, these discs become dried out and degenerate, so they don’t provide the cushioning they once did. These discs can also rupture or bulge, which also causes pain.

Less frequently, back pain is caused by compression of the nerves that enter and exit your spine. Back pain can also be caused by abnormalities of the spine or degenerative changes to the spinal column.

When You Should See a Doctor

Female Doctor With X-ray

No two cases of back pain are the same. When your back pain is caused from the strain of “overdoing it,” you may have pain that lasts a few days or even weeks, then goes away on its own or with a little help from a heating pad, rest, and some Tylenol. If your back pain lasts for longer than six weeks, you should see the doctor.

In some cases, back pain can be very serious, or the sign of a serious condition. Here’s when you should seek out a doctor or go to the emergency room immediately:

  • Severe back pain after trauma such as a fall down the stairs or a car accident
  • When you have sudden back pain, and also loss of control of your bladder and bowels

Other cases aren’t so serious that they need emergency care, but you should see your regular doctor as soon as possible if you experience back pain accompanied by:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Night pain
  • Foot drop (when you suddenly can’t pick your foot or toes off the ground)

If you’re not sure of whether or not to see a doctor, call AltaMed’s Nurse Advice Line at (866) 266-5092 to speak with a registered nurse who will ask questions and give you advice on your next steps.

Proactive Steps to Prevent Back Pain

Senior Doing Exercise

Once you’re back to normal, consider taking steps to protect your back and prevent another episode of back pain. You may not be able to do anything about the aging process, but there are plenty of other steps you can take to build a healthy back.

Maintain a Healthful Weight

To put it in very simple terms, the less weight your back has to support, the better it works. If you’re overweight, talk to your doctor about lifestyle changes that you can make to achieve a goal weight.

Learn How to Move

Your doctor may give you a home exercise program or prescribe physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch your muscles. Don’t worry, you won’t have to do endless sit-ups or work up a sweat: most of the time, physical therapy emphasizes gentle stretches and simple moves that strengthen the muscles in your back, abdomen, and legs.

Eat a Healthy Diet

  • Spices such as ginger, turmeric, and cayenne fight pain-causing inflammation in your body. In a way, the effects are similar to taking aspirin or ibuprofen, but they happen over time, not immediately.
  • On the other hand, sugar, too much alcohol, and the processed carbohydrates found in foods like bread, pastries, and cereals promote inflammation. Cutting back on these foods could have a positive, long-term effect on you back.
  • Healthy fats from nuts, fish, and avocados will support pain-free movement of your joints.

You don’t have to do it all at once. Make little changes and watch them all add up. Your back (and the rest of your body) will thank you!

Get started with AltaMed

See how AltaMed Health Services can help your family grow healthy.

Learn More

woman and tea

The Skinny on Those Tiny Tummy Teas

If you follow any celebrities or other influencers on Instagram, you’ve probably seen posts where the celeb is wearing a bikini or other revealing outfit and sipping on a cup of tea -- claiming that those flat abs came not from their personal trainer, a live-in chef, or plastic surgery, but from drinking a weight-loss tea with a cute-sounding name and pink packaging. You click through the post to a glossy website with amazing before-and-after pictures and positive reviews – and you probably wonder if it’s all for real.

Since January is the time of year when many people are working on New Year’s resolutions to lose weight or save money, we can help you achieve both: don’t waste your money on these teas that make a lot of promises but only make you spend more time in the bathroom.

New Packaging, Same Old Scam

Healthy Food Store Aisle

Flat tummy teas are nothing new. If you’ve ever been to a botanica or even your local health food store, you’ve probably seen teas advertising amazing benefits, such as appetite suppression, fat burning, or natural detoxing for your body. These teas have been around for decades. They’re almost the exact same thing that you’re seeing now in your social media feeds, just with different marketing.

So, what’s in them?


Young Woman With Abdominal Pain

Look at the side of the box, and you’ll probably see a lot of ingredients you’ve never heard of – and maybe some you have heard of. Like Senna, which is an FDA-approved laxative that can be purchased over the counter. Senna is what’s called a stimulant laxative, and it acts by revving up the activity of your intestines. Senna is so potent, one slimming tea even comes with a warning: “You should ensure that you have ready access to a toilet until you know how your body reacts…”

What the packaging doesn’t tell you is that it’s dangerous to take Senna for more than two weeks. Long-term use can cause your bowels to stop functioning normally, muscle weakness, and heart and liver damage.

Herbs that Make You Urinate More

Person Taking Toilet Paper

Many of these teas also feature fresh-sounding ingredients, such as dandelion, juniper, parsley, and nettle. With ingredients like this, the tea has to be natural and wholesome, right? These are all herbs that have a diuretic effect: they increase the production of urine (you have to pee more).

Unfortunately, when you drink these teas, you’re not peeing out calories or pounds: you’re peeing out important nutrients like potassium and calcium. Too much, over the long term, can cause dehydration, dizziness, headaches, and muscle cramps.

Caffeine and Other Stimulants

Woman with Hands on Heart

Many weight loss teas also blend ingredients such as caffeine, green tea, guarana, and cayenne to deliver some extra kick (and they will also make you urinate more). These ingredients may boost your metabolism for a short period of time but don’t provide any long-lasting effects. It’s a combination that can be harmful to anyone with high blood pressure or heart conditions.

Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, and sleeplessness…which may actually be linked to weight gain.

At Best, These Teas are a Rip-off

Worried Woman on Computer

Basically, the only thing these teas do is rev up your heart rate and make you spend a lot more time in the bathroom. The only weight you’re losing will quickly come back. And our bodies already have detoxification tools: our liver, kidneys, lungs, and skim are remarkably effective at removing so-called toxins.

At Worst, They Can Cause Long-Term Health Problems

Young Woman With Pelvic Pain

These teas are not FDA-approved – that is, they are not studied or regulated by the American Food & Drug Administration, the federal agency that protects the public by surveying the effectiveness and safety of various foods, drugs, and cosmetics. They may interact with certain medications. They’re not safe to take in the long-term. If you dig a little deeper online, you’ll find reports of women experiencing explosive cramps and menstrual irregularities.

Stick to Proven Methods for Healthfully Losing Weight

Fitness Woman Drinking Water

Any remedy that seems too good to be true usually is. Fortunately, a healthy diet and regular exercise can help you shed pounds while increasing your overall level of health.

If it’s a flat stomach you’re after, there’s no such thing as spot reduction, but toned abs and back muscles can help you stand up straighter, which reduces the appearance of a gut (as well as keeps your back healthy and strong).

Regular tea can also be used in a healthy diet. Black, green, and oolong teas can give your energy a boost and may even fight high blood pressure and cholesterol. Before you start any new health or fitness program, check in with your doctor!

Foam From Coffee

The Health Benefits (and Risks) of Drinking Caffeine

There’s something so comforting about that first sip of coffee: you feel warm from the inside out and energized to take on the day. Caffeine can’t be bad for you, right?

The short answer is: maybe? And it depends on who you are.

Caffeine is a naturally occurring compound that gives coffee and colas that energy-boosting zing – and it seems like doctors have mixed emotions about it. There have been reports showing that caffeine can deliver health benefits such as fighting inflammation, boosting metabolism, and possibly cutting risk for stroke, Parkinson’s disease, and heart failure. And it’s a good thing, since as many as 80 – 90% of Americans consume caffeine on a regular basis.

On the downside, too much caffeine can give you the jitters, make you lose sleep, raise your blood pressure, and can even cause a headache. It can also interfere with your body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, the mineral that is important for strong, healthy bones and teeth. Some people have medical conditions that can be made worse by caffeine. In rare cases, people can overdose on caffeine (but it’s usually when taken in pill form).

And caffeine addiction is a real thing. Over time, your body can develop a dependence on it, and when you don’t get it, you develop flu-like symptoms that include fatigue, headache, muscle soreness, lack of mental focus, and dehydration.

Who Should Limit Caffeine

  • Those prone to migraines
  • Anyone with high blood pressure
  • Children and teens
  • Ulcer suffers
  • Those with irregular heart rhythms

Who Should Avoid Caffeine

  • Pregnant women
  • Breastfeeding women
  • Require certain medications

Choose a Healthy Caffeine Source

Even if you tolerate caffeine well, some caffeinated drinks are better for you than others. If you need a little pick-me-up to get going, try some of the healthier alternatives and then avoid the rest.


Coffee Grains

This rich beverage has been savored around the world for hundreds of years. Still, many drinkers find it somewhat bitter, and add sugar or creamer to ease the taste. Instead, try more healthful alternatives such as cinnamon, almond milk, coconut cream, stevia, or honey.


Cups of Coffee

These hot shots are actually just super-concentrated doses of coffee. Because of their tiny size, espresso shots don’t have as much caffeine as a cup of black coffee, but because it’s so potent, espresso has more caffeine per ounce. Usually consumed straight, espresso is a no-go for those with heart conditions.

Coffee-house Style Blended Coffee Drinks

Caffeinated Drink

Enjoy these sweet treats in moderation. Even if they provide the right dose of caffeine, they’re filled with sugar – many of them pack as many calories as a milkshake. All that sugar + a dose of caffeine = plummeting energy levels after the buzz wears off.

Energy Drinks

Energizing Drink

Drink these only occasionally – or better yet, not at all. Some energy drinks contain as much caffeine as three cups of coffee. In addition, most are loaded with sugar and herbal stimulants for extra kick. It’s too much for many people – in 2011, energy drinks sent more than 20,000 people to the emergency room.


Tea with Coffee

Some teas will get your motor running, and also provide additional health benefits. Even though it doesn’t have quite as much caffeine, both green tea and oolong tea are good sources of antioxidants, which are thought to protect your cells from aging and disease. These teas taste very different from the herbal teas you might have tried; spoon in some honey or stevia to healthfully sweeten your cup.


Young Girl Drinking Soda

A 12-oz can of soda has about half the caffeine of a cup of coffee, so you’re not going to get a lot of bang for your buck. Like blended coffee drinks, these should only be consumed as an occasional treat, since sodas are very high in sugar. Diet sodas aren’t much better: there have been (inconclusive) studies linking them to serious health conditions and weight gain.

If You’re After Long-Lasting Energy…

Coffee will give you a boost, but for energy that lasts throughout the day, there’s no substitute for !good nutritionexercise, and getting a good night’s sleep!

Back Pain Basics and Prevention