Back pain is a common complaint among adults in the United States. Next to headaches, it is the most common reason for medical visits, and it ranks as one of the leading causes for missed work days.
There are several causes of back pain:
- Mechanical back pain is the most common type of back pain. It results from problems in the structure of the spine and the way it moves. Disc degeneration, ruptured discs, muscle strain and spasms are some examples of mechanical problems in the spine.
- Spinal injuries such as sprains, fractures and torn ligaments can cause back pain that is acute (lasting less than six weeks) or chronic (lasting longer than three months).
- Conditions and diseases sometimes affect the spine and result in back pain. Examples include scoliosis, spondylolisthesis, arthritis, spinal stenosis and fibromyalgia.
- Infections and tumors are sometimes responsible for back pain, although not very common.
There are several pain management therapies that can help control back pain and prevent it from returning. They include:
Exercises that strengthen the back muscles can relieve chronic back pain and prevent future injuries. It is important to note that exercise is not recommended as treatment for acute back pain. Talk to your doctor or physical therapist about what types of exercises will work best for you.
Hot & Cold Therapy
Hot and cold therapy will not treat the source of your pain, but it can offer significant relief. Apply heat for 15 to 20 minutes at a time to soothe muscle pain and ease spasms. Use ice or cold packs for 10 to 15 minutes at a time to numb pain and reduce inflammation. Always keep ice packs wrapped in a towel; never apply ice directly to the skin.
Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin and ibuprofen can help to control acute back pain until symptoms subside. Topical creams and ointments may also be applied to provide on-site relief.
In cases where back pain is chronic or more severe, prescription medications may be required. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be prescribed in prescription strength to control pain and swelling. Antidepressants and muscle relaxants are also used for managing chronic back pain.
Steroid or epidural injections can provide significant relief, although temporary. Doctors sometimes use injections to confirm the source of back pain and arrive at a diagnosis.
Improving your posture, changing your sleep position and remembering to utilize proper lifting technique are important changes that will allow your back to heal and prevent injuries in the future.
In more severe cases of chronic back pain, or in cases where other treatments have failed, surgery may be the most appropriate option. Conditions that typically require surgery include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated disc
- Fractured vertebrae
- Spinal stenosis
Finding the right treatment for back pain is often a trial-and-error process, so don’t get discouraged if the first remedy you try isn’t successful. Find a doctor who listens to your needs and is determined to provide you with the best treatment plan possible. It may take a little while to find what works for you, but in the end it will be worth it (Source: NIH).