DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 75 and in great shape. I played tennis three times a week until three weeks ago, when my lower back on the left side felt painful. The pain comes from the left side of my spine and down my left leg. X-rays showed arthritis through the lower back. I took Advil for a day. If I sit for five minutes, I have a painful time getting up. Any suggestions? – A.H.

ANSWER:
Back pain comes in two varieties: acute and chronic. Acute back pain lasts less than three months. Chronic pain lasts longer than that. The two differ in causes and outlook.

With acute back pain, more than 80 percent of people get over it with rest, anti-inflammatory pain medicine and things like the application of heat or cold, whichever works better.

Rest doesn’t mean bed rest. It means staying as active as possible but not doing those things that are painful. You have to take anti-inflammatory medicines, such as your Advil, longer than one day. Muscle relaxants – Flexeril is one – can also help.

Chronic low-back pain or back pain with pain running down the leg is a different proposition. I can give you three important causes of this kind of pain.

One is spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the canal through which the spinal cord and spinal nerves run. Arthritis and bone spurs are some of the causes that narrow the canal. Pressure on spinal nerves from the constricted canal leads to back pain and pain that shoots down a leg. You can sometimes ease the pain by sitting on a chair and bending downward. As you bend down, rotate the right shoulder toward the left knee, hold for six seconds and repeat six times. Then change to left shoulder to right knee.

A bulging disk can cause similar pain. Bending backward at the waist with hands on the hips 10 consecutive times can lessen the pain that comes from this problem.

Sciatica is low-back and leg pain due to pressure on the sciatic nerve. The chair exercise for spinal stenosis can alleviate sciatica pain.

This is back pain simplified too much.

Exercise doesn’t relieve it all the time. Back pain that doesn’t remit demands a hands-on examination for the correct diagnosis and for individualized treatment.

The book on back pain handles this question in detail. To obtain a copy, write: Dr. Donohue – No. 303, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I see lots of material about stem cells. I am 89. In 1964, I had a brain operation. They thought I had a tumor. During the operation, they found an abscess, not a tumor. In removing the abscess, they removed a small section of brain that controls the left side of the body. I cannot use my left arm in a normal manner. Would stem cells help me to regain some movement in my left arm? – A.G.

ANSWER: T
he promise that stem cells hold out for people like you as well as for people with many other conditions is great. At the present, however, they are not in general use to generate new brain cells.

Stems cells are cells that can turn into many other kinds of cells – brain, liver, bone, etc.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I have diabetes. I take four insulin shots daily. Does insulin make you put on weight? I have put on a few pounds in the past few months since I started insulin. Before that, I took diabetes pills. – V.G.

ANSWER:
Weight gain is not a common effect of insulin. Taking in an excess of calories makes a person gain weight.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: When you deal with arthritis questions, why don’t you include the Arthritis Foundation as a source of information? I believe you would provide readers with important information. The foundation’s Web site is www.arthritis.org. – M.P.

ANSWER:
Consider it done. It is a wonderful Web site. If people don’t have a computer, they can still access the site by using their local library’s computer. The librarian will show how to use it.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from www.rbmamall.com


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