Back to basics for women

In a recent National Institute of Health study on pain, nearly 1/3 of respondents listed low back pain as the most common type they experienced. Aside from being frustrating and costly to treat, back pain can also keep you from your favorite activities. Women, especially, can suffer in conjunction with other life events, including pregnancy and menopause.

So, how can women of all ages can benefit from easy ways to prevent or fight back pain?

In your teens: If it’s painful, stop. Pain can be a warning sign that you need to seek help. You don’t want something that happens in your teens to turn into a chronic injury lasting years.

Pregnant woman with backacheIn your 20s–40s: Pregnancy is an easy way women can injure their backs. Toward the end of pregnancy, ligaments and tendons loosen to help the birthing process. But that tightness is what helps prevent injury. Also, make sure to keep your core muscles tightened when you lift or carry a child.

50+: After menopause, estrogen production begins to wane, giving women a higher risk of conditions such as compression fractures. Try yoga or Pilates to keep core muscles strong and protect your back. If you garden, take breaks often: None of us are made to be hunched over for more than a few minutes, unless you’re a master yogi!

There is good news about back pain, though it may not seem that way when you’re going through it: It will often resolve on its own. Heat, ice, physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and over-the-counter pain medications — taken as directed — can help.

But there is some back pain that does need urgent care: See a doctor if your pain is so acute you can’t walk or turn your body, if you feel numbness or weakness, or if you lose control of your bladder or bowels.

A leader in the latest techniques and technology, the OHSU Spine Center treats every back and spine condition, with a wide range of treatments, including physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, acupuncture, surgery, and more. To make an appointment, visit


Grace Chen, M.D., joined the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine in 2004. Her primary clinical interests are in the non-surgical treatment of back pain, spinal pain that is not alleviated by surgery, and non-opioid treatment of pain.