by Christopher Boyle
LONG ISLAND, NY – Countless people throughout the United States throw themselves into all-sorts of exercise routines which latch onto the latest diet crazes; but often while punishing themselves in the gym and again at the dinner table, many people don’t even spend a moment thinking about the one thing in their bodies that is truly the overall barometer of their health and fitness- the spine, which essentially forms the conduit through which all of your bodily functions flow. If your spine is neglected, it doesn’t matter how many reps you do on the bench or how many salads you ingest…life will not be pleasant.
Dr. Sanjeev Suratwala knows more about spine health than most, working at the Hofstra North Shore Long Island Jewish (LIJ) School of Medicine as an Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery. That distinction alone tells you that he knows more than his fair share about back health, and he recently decided to share that knowledge with local residents at an informational event he held at the Massapequa Public Library.
“Basically, we’re talking about what is normal, what is abnormal, as well as common issues that people experience and common ways to address them,” he said. “We also discuss what it’s appropriate to visit a medical professional, how to tell the difference between a simple, everyday problem and a potentially serious one, and treatment options and preventative options to avoid developing spine and/or back problems altogether. It’s about making lifestyle changes and choices and avoiding quick-fixes in favor of long-term solutions.”
Dr. Suratwala, a Great Neck resident, said that there are no magical secrets to back health, just an adherence to regular, preventative steps that can help someone remain healthy and mobile…or, if you are already experiencing problems, alleviate issues that already exist.
“Most importantly, people must remain active, which can be difficult if you work a sedentary job…so you always want to make time for physical activity, and it should be appropriate for your physical state and age,” he said. “For example, an overweight person shouldn’t just get up and try to run in a marathon. Instead, start out slowly – remembering that this is a lifestyle change, not a quick-fix – and try walking, swimming, and light resistance training using weights.”
Likewise, a balanced diet is also vital to ensure spine health; avoiding diet fads and processed foods is a great way to introduce yourself to better eating, and once you adjust, you can fine-tune what you put in your body to ensure maximum benefit, Dr. Suratwala said.
People should prepare their own meals, and eat a balanced diet as much as possible,” he said. “Fruits, vegetables, grains, lean proteins, while avoiding fats and sugar – combined with activity – is the way to go. “
And finally, Dr. Suratwala said, people should always avoid bad physical habits, including as poor posture, repetitive bending and twisting, and so on. If you work a desk job, be sure to take regular breaks where you get up and take a walk or stretch to keep yourself limber and in alignment.
Not everyone will encounter back issues in their lives, Dr. Suratwala noted, but as we all get older the opportunities for them to come creeping into our lives – and spines – will increase if you’re not careful. But along with the right lifestyle, equally important is the ability to tell a minor back problem from something that carries far more potential for serious harm.
“As you get older, the instances of back pain usually increase… people will typically experience some degree of sporadic back pain as they age,” he said. “Serious, chronic back pain is rare, but occasional, random issues brought on by poor posture or remaining seated too long is normal, especially if you’re not taking preventative steps to combat it. But if you’re experiencing any serious or regular pain, it’s best to see a professional.”
Dr. Suratwala said that he was inspired to become an Orthopedic surgeon due to the positive way he would be able to impact the lives of his patients; after all, there’s nothing quite so debilitating as chronic pain that emanates from the very core of your being, and being able to help someone overcome that and live comfortably once again is a wonderful gift for a doctor to be able to impart.
“People can come in with bad backs, bad knees, bad hips, and I’m able to do something that affects their life meaningfully to get them to functional recovery much sooner than simply putting them on medication, which only masks the real issue,” he said. “I’ve always been a hands-on person, and the opportunity to take care of people in an immediate way, getting them back up and around, is a wonderful feeling. Plus, the spine is a complex body part, and the challenge of working with it appeals to me.”