Back pains are common as one ages.

Sitting hunched over reading a book can flatten your spine and make you likely to have significant back problems such as early arthritis. If you have pain after studying or reading for prolonged periods, use a heating pad to the affected area. Try to sit straight when doing something like studying. You should gently stretch and move your head and neck every four hours.

Get a good mattress. It should be firm enough to support your back, but soft enough to conform to the shape of your body. If you are unsure about the quality of your mattress (whether it is hard enough for you), take it off the bed and place it on the floor for a couple of nights without the bedsprings. If you feel better, get a new mattress.

Sleeping on your back is the best position for your back. Some people have been “belly” sleepers since childhood and cannot sleep any other way. Side sleepers have the best luck avoiding back pains. Slip a pillow between your legs to take the pressure off your hips and tuck your legs toward your chest. This is especially good for people who already have back pain and for pregnant women.

Never sit for too long a period. Get up and move about every 30 minutes to give your body a break.
Your spine needs a strong stomach and healthy back. Climbing stairs daily and carrying groceries help these muscles. Do exercise daily and not just on weekends.

One last fact. People who smoke are three times more likely to get lower back pains and the belief is that smoking curbs blood flow to your spine. Moreover, it weakens bones and makes the disks between the spinal bodies break down faster. Even coughing from smoking can weaken your back and eventually cause significant pains.

The skin is the site of evaporation of water. It is our own natural air-conditioner. In the winter when the humidity is low and the air is very dry, the skin becomes itchy because it also becomes dry and, in some patients, very scaly. Certain conditions like diabetes, high fevers, or alcoholism, where the body becomes dehydrated means that the skin of such patients will itch more. As I said in previous columns, it is very important to stay hydrated with water at all times, especially in the cold winter months and the hot summer months. Proper skin care should include emollients (creams or oils) to the skin daily especially after taking a bath or a shower. On the other hand, symptoms of itching can be made worse by exposure to heat. Light weight clothing, airconditioned environments and the use of lukewarm, rather than hot water during showers or baths may alleviate symptoms. Lotions that provide a cooling sensation to the skin such as calamine lotion or lotions with 4 % menthol can sooth the skin and take away the itching.

A lot of people believe that a smartphone is dangerous. There have been endless discussions about cell phones and cancer, for example. In reviewing the data, there is none to show that microwaves such as those used in cell phones cause brain tumors. On TV about 10 years ago, a cell phone was shone to cook popcorn on a table. What was not shown was the radiant heater underneath the table. This was hardly convincing and made cell phones as a cause of brain tumors highly unlikely.

There are easier ways to be harmed from your cell phone. You carry your smartphone wherever you go; at school, at work, into the restroom, while shopping and while running all kinds of errands. Some people even talk into their phones while on the commode. This is not a great idea since smartphones harbor viruses and bacteria like E. coli and can make you very sick. My recommendation is to use alcohol-based wipes to clean your cell phone at the end of the day and keep it out of places where it can become very contaminated. The treatment for Lyme disease prevention is usually doxycycline or another antibiotic if you cannot take tetracyclines. The treatment if given early enough will prevent the disease from appearing.

Looking down at your cellphone while walking is also not a good idea. People get so involved with their smartphones that they exclude all activity around them, and people have been maimed by walking into poles or wandering into traffic and being hit by cars. Texting and browsing while walking or sitting strains the neck muscles and lead to knots or spasms that cause nerve pain in your neck, your back, shoulders, or down your arms. Most experts suggest that you take a break every 20 minutes when you are texting or browsing on your smartphone. Keep good posture and do not hunch forward. Hold your phone high when you are using it. It’s important to have great efficiency in your work environment (ergonomics) and understand that using the smartphone to the exclusion of all that surrounds you can come at a cost. Judicious use of the smartphone is important because it can be dangerous to your health.

This is the season for Lyme disease, and one should be careful walking through glens or high weeds with exposed skin. Saddle River’s deer population is huge and the incidence of Lyme could be quite high. You can be bitten by a tick and not know it until a targeted bulls-eye lesion appears on your skin. This lesion is fairly typical and should not be missed, but sadly it is missed in over 60% of cases. Generally, in the early stages after the tick bite with infection there are no symptoms. Blood tests immediatly after a tick bites you are generally negative. It takes a few days to weeks for the tests to become positive. If the rash is typical and/or you present the deer tick to a doctor (which you have just removed from your body) antibiotics can be given empirically until the disease is confirmed.

As I said, about 60% of the time the rash goes unnoticed. This is a problem. Anywhere from 4 to 8 weeks after the bite patients get nausea, flu-like aches, headaches, and overall weakness. These are common complaints so one never thinks of Lyme disease until most of the general tests are exhausted and all normal. The arthritis does not appear for many months, which can alert you and your doctor to the fact that you might have Lyme disease.

The treatment for Lyme disease prevention is usually doxycycline or another antibiotic if you cannot take tetracyclines. The treatment if given early enough will prevent the disease from appearing.

There is a lot of misinformation out there about “chronic Lyme disease” with people being on IV therapy for months and sometimes years. And there are tests for the disease from urine when the blood tests are negative. Caution is warranted, because there are no other definitive tests for Lyme than those approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and the Communicable Disease Center. If you are uncertain about the diagnosis and need help, call your doctor or our local Board of Health in Saddle River. We track these diseases and would be glad to help you.