​One wrong move can put your body out of whack. The culprits include repetitive injuries, accidents and sports. Here's advice from Dr Tan Seang Beng, Associate Professor, Senior Consultant and Director, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group:

Q: My husband has been complaining about low back pain. Is it a slipped disc? Will it go away on its own or should he see a specialist?

A: Low back pain is a very common complaint for a simple reason. Since the lowest part of the spine, the lumbar spine, is connected to your pelvis, it is where most of your weight bearing and body movement take place. Typically, people tend to place too much pressure on this area by twisting, lifting or carrying a heavy object. At the workplace, too, your husband may strain his back – for instance, he’s a dentist and needs to constantly bend to tend to patients, or he’s an office worker and is not very comfortable sitting at his desk. Such repetitive injuries can lead to damage to parts of the lumbar spine.

A simple slipped disc is a sprain, most likely caused when one of the spinal discs has moved beyond its normal range. Tissues get torn, leading to pain, swelling and stiffness. Sometimes, all a slipped disc needs is proper rest, such as sleeping on a firm mattress. But there are also cases where a slipped disc is serious enough to warrant surgery, of which one of the most effective – and most popular because the patient requires a shorter hospital stay and recovers faster – is keyhole surgery. As the name suggests, keyhole surgery requires only a small "keyhole" incision. Instruments reach the disc through this tiny incision and remove the ruptured disc fragment with precision or, in severe cases, replace it with a cage device or an artificial disc.

My advice is, pay attention to your body. Any time there’s pain or discomfort in the back, it needs to be looked at by a doctor. If the condition is left untreated, it can get worse and the pain can run elsewhere, for instance along a nerve, causing extreme discomfort, tingling, numbness or tightness where the nerve travels. It is important to remember that massage soothes but does not cure the condition. Consult an orthopaedic doctor for steps to take to correct and limit the injury.

Tips for a healthy back

  • Pay attention to your body:
    • If something you are doing causes your back to hurt, stop and rest or stop altogether.
  • Be sure your back and neck are properly supported when you sit or sleep:
    • Get expert help in choosing your mattress and pillows. You can upset the alignment of your spine if a mattress is too soft, or a pillow too high.
  • Lose weight:
    • If your weight is putting excessive pressure on your spine, weight loss can reduce your discomfort.
  • Lift objects properly:
    • Always bend your knees so your arms are at the same level as the heavy object you plan to lift.
  • Exercise is vital for a healthy spine:
    • If you have never been in the habit of doing exercise or if you already have an injury to your spine, talk to your doctor or physical therapist before you start on an exercise routine.

Advice from the specialist

"Better posture leads to better spine health. Simple things count. For example, at work make sure your chair has proper lower back support – chairs with an 'S' curve are more ergonomic and therefore better for your back. Sit into your chair and push it all the way in to your desk. When working at your desk, make sure your shoulders and elbows are resting comfortably," says Dr Tan.

Ref. W09