Moving Can Be Hard


Partner Content Vanderbilt Spine Center

Article by Jennifer Booher

Photography by Jennifer Booher

Packing and lifting boxes, loading furniture onto and off a truck – it’s a lot of physical work, and most of us don’t do this literal heavy lifting every day. So perhaps it’s no surprise that if you just moved to Nashville, your first Music City experience is back or neck pain.

A.M. Abtahi, MD, can sympathize. He is an orthopedic spine surgeon with the Vanderbilt Spine Center.

“I see at least one patient a week who says, I just moved here from out of town and I was packing boxes up and moving things,” Abtahi said. “And I hurt my back and it’s bothered me for a few weeks now.”

It’s very common to end up with neck or back pain after strenuous physical tasks like moving – or doing yard work, a favorite activity this time of year, or even spring cleaning. No matter what triggered your back pain, if you haven’t found an orthopedic doctor or sports medicine doctor, Vanderbilt spine specialists can help.

The Spine Center staff is a team of experts from many disciplines. They work together to evaluate back problems and help patients decide on the best treatment. Abtahi and his team practice a conservative approach to spine care. “The overwhelming majority of patients that present to my clinic don't need surgery,” Abtahi says. Most of the time, back pain can be treated conservatively with a combination of medications, activity modifications, and/or physical therapy.

While the majority of back pain can be treated conservatively, there are several red flags that may indicate the presence of a more serious problem. These include pain radiating down an arm or leg, as well as numbness or weakness. These symptoms may indicate a pinched nerve or related problem that can require a different approach to treatment.

“There’s often some detective work in getting to the bottom of what is causing a patient’s pain,” says Abtahi. Back pain often occurs due to a combination of causes, which may include underlying structural changes in the spine such as disc degeneration, disc herniations or “slipped” discs. Occupational factors, such as heavy lifting, and other environmental factors, such as obesity or smoking, can also play a role in back pain – as can sudden strenuous effort, such as during a move. Often, Abtahi orders imaging, such as X-rays or an MRI, to gather more information and determine the cause(s) of a patient’s pain.

Once Abtahi has identified the cause(s) of a patients back pain, he works with patients to determine an ideal treatment plan, based on the patient’s condition and input. “I spend time with patients helping them understand the underlying causes of their pain and what treatments might or might not benefit them.” Frequently Abtahi refers patients for injections and/or physical therapy. Occasionally, surgery is recommended, but Abtahi’s team makes sure that this is only after conservative options are exhausted.

After all, many of us have been more sedentary than usual in the past year, cooped up at home, with workplaces and gyms shuttered during the pandemic. Recently as some sectors of the economy have started to open and people are getting vaccinated, collectively we’re suddenly becoming more active again – and this can sometimes lead to injuries.

For those preparing for a move, Abtahi has some advice for avoiding back injuries:

  • Strategize before lifting heavy items, to find ways to do it safely. Lift with your legs and not with your back. If something is too heavy, don’t try to move it yourself.
  • Consider hiring a mover to handle the heaviest items, such as furniture. Or ask several friends to help, so more than only one or two people are lifting that couch onto the truck.
  • Take breaks frequently.
  • If possible, space a move out over several days or even weeks. Packing a truck one day and unloading it the next may not give your back enough time to recover.
  • If you have an acute episode of back pain, stop the offending activity, use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (naproxen or ibuprofen), drink a lot of water, and use ice on the affected area, but do not lay in bed. It is best to keep up gentle activity such as walking or stretching. (Search Google or YouTube to find short, easy back stretches.)
  • If back pain doesn’t improve significantly in a few weeks, consider seeing a spine specialist to determine if there is an underlying problem and what treatments could help.

If you are dealing with pain or an injury from moving, facing surgery or coping with chronic pain, Vanderbilt Spine Center offers a full spectrum of care. Their specialists care for patients across the Southeast and will work with you from evaluation and “prehab” through physical therapy and, if needed, surgery. Vanderbilt Spine Center will help you get back to doing the things you love, pain-free. To make an appointment, click here for online scheduling:


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