Dear Dr. Solomon: Lower back pain seems to be becoming an epidemic. Almost everyone I talk to has a bad back or had a bad back at one time. I can sympathize with them because I have the same problem. Is there any way it can be prevented? -- Kerry, Greenbrier, W.Va.
Dear Kerry: Lower back pain is a common problem. A number of cases have been attributed to muscle weakness. Therefore, by strengthening the back and abdominal muscles, you should be able to reduce the risk of lower back pain or alleviate the condition.
The back and abdominal muscles can be strengthened by doing sit-ups and by stretching, as well as by participating in such activities as walking, biking and swimming. Other factors that may contribute to lower back pain include obesity and poor posture; weight loss is a must for anyone who is overweight. Of course, over-exertion, such as that experienced by weekend athletes who try to do too much in too little time, may also cause lower back pain.
Dear Dr. Solomon: I've been using a heating pad to ease my arthritis for some time, but now I've heard that moist heat is better. What kind of heat is moist heat, and how do you apply it? -- Sarah, Baltimore, Md.
Dear Sarah: As you already know, heat is an important element in the treatment of arthritis.
Moist heat means exactly that -- heat applied by using a bath, shower, or heated pool, or by using a towel that has been soaked in warm water and then wrung out. Any of these methods should be used a couple of times a day for about 15 minutes.
For those who have trouble climbing in and out of a bathtub, a shower may be better. A sturdy chair can be placed in the tub or shower stall to provide additional stability.
Once an arthritic condition responds to the application of moist heat, appropriate exercise is in order. The combination of heat and exercise should lead to increased flexibility, permitting easier movement of the joints.
Dear Dr. Solomon: I would appreciate an explanation of what is meant by the "barrier method" of contraception, and what the advantages of it are compared with other methods. -- Leslie, Jarrettsville, Md.
Dear Leslie: The use of mechanical and chemical barriers decreases the possibility of sexually transmitted diseases and the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease.
Methods include the use of condoms, diaphragms and vaginal spermicides.
For Mrs. L.Y., Chevy Chase, Md.: If your youngster's participation in team sports is as stressful as you describe, it would be better for him to leave the team.
For Hillary, Alexandria, Va.: A sinus infection can affect the sense of smell.
Dr. Solomon will answer questions from Baltimore area readers in his Tuesday column in Accent on Health.
To leave a question for Dr. Solomon, call SUNDIAL, the Baltimore Sun's directory of telephone information services at 783-1800, or 268-7736 in Anne Arundel County. You must use a touch-tone phone to be connected. It is a local call and there is no charge to ask your question.
After you hear the greeting, enter category 7906 and you will be linked to an electronic mailbox, a telephone answering system. You will be asked to leave your name, phone number and a message of up to 60 seconds in length.
Dr. Solomon will review all messages left for him each week but will be able to answer only a sampling of these questions in his Tuesday column. He will be unable to answer any specific questions with a personal phone call.