- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 16, 2000

Eight out of 10 adults will experience back pain at some point during their lives, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
My lucky day came late in high school, when for no apparent reason, I found myself unable to stand up without having intense pain shoot up my spine. Thanks to a knowledgeable doctor, I controlled the problem through weight management and exercise.
For those still suffering, a recently revamped Web site created by a brother-and-sister team offers answers and options to alleviate a problem that cripples Americans' wallets by as much as $16 billion annually.

Spine-health.com

Site address: www.spine-health.com.

Creator:

Chicago-based Spine-health.com was founded by Dr. Peter Ullrich, a spine surgeon, and Stephanie Burke, a health care strategy consultant, with the shared vision of providing a comprehensive Internet resource to help people understand, prevent and seek appropriate treatment for their back pain.

Creator quotable:

"We believe that a well-educated patient who is involved in understanding and managing his or her care decisions will heal faster and have fewer recurrences of back pain," says Dr. Ullrich, medical director for Spine-health.com. "Back pain is such a complex condition, it's important for patients to be able to research the full range of possible causes, treatments and professionals who treat various aspects of back pain."

Word from the Webwise:

Spine-health.com takes an aggressive approach to provide as much information as possible to help individuals understand and deal with pain in the lumbar region.
One of my first questions when looking at a heath site always concerns the information's reliability.
Spine-Health develops its own reports and uses a certified board of six medical experts who specialize in spinal health, chiropractic services, orthopedic surgery and physical therapy to check its facts.
Using a simple design with few bells and whistles, the site immediately directs visitors to areas pertinent to their conditions. The best place to go for quick exploration of the site is the "Getting Started" icon.
The page, indicative of many portions of the site, immediately asks if one has "a diagnosed condition," "a specific question," "a muscle strain," "questions about surgery" or "questions about non-surgical treatments." Each leads to larger sections full of helpful advice and information.
I found another great starting point was the "Anatomy and Back Pain" section. Found under "Overview of Neck and Back Pain," the pages concisely and easily dissect the three major areas of the spine, with additional emphasis on the nerve roots, muscles and vertebral disks.
Through text and illustrations, I discovered the two nerves that are pinched most commonly, how a herniated disk looks and how vertebrae act as shock absorbers.
The front page of the site also displays a handy scrolling menu that lists frequently diagnosed back problems ranging from degenerative disk disease to osteoporosis. Each topic leads to a voluminous discussion of the problem, with causes and treatment options outlined clearly.
For example, click on "Fibromyalgia" to learn that this fairly common syndrome was documented in medical literature in the 1800s. It is characterized by scattered musculoskeletal pain, tenderness in specific areas, general fatigue and a feeling of tiredness after sleeping. The typical patient is female and 45 years old, and her symptoms usually get worse with stress and cold weather. Treatments include massage therapy, electromyographic-biofeedback, low-impact aerobics and muscle relaxants.
A nice feature, found under "Back Talk," allows visitors to e-mail a spine specialist, share spine experiences, get more answers in a bulletin board and sign up for a newsletter.
Other sections include "New Features," such as a detailed look at "Magnetic Resonance Imaging," and a page for spine specialists to list their practices.

Don't miss:

Spine-health.com offers a "Tip of the Day" with a simple click on a link found under the home page's "Activities" area. Visitors will learn that chronic lower back pain may lead to depression and should be treated concurrently and that drinking alcohol should not be used to numb the pain.

Ease of use:

Spine-health.com has done a tremendous job of directing visitors through its site with plenty of drop-down menus, sidebars and highlighted sections. I think a site map and search engine would help solidify its navigability.
I noticed that some photos would not load and some sections, such as "Research," and "Marketplace," were still under construction. Overall, the site avoids annoying banner ads while using a nice blend of technology and lots of text to give visitors plenty of answers.

Information grade: B+

Have a cool site for the family? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (joseph@twtmail.com).

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