With 80% of people experiencing back pain at some point in their lives, there are countless opinions on how best to treat it. Until recently, even doctors and researchers admitted they were in the dark about what to do for the most common cases.
From knowing when an MRI is a good idea, to resigning yourself to bedrest, and to fears about relying on the chiropractor for the rest of your life, dispelling the myths around this very prevalent topic will help clarify your path of action.
It's easy to forget good body mechanics when doing housework, sitting at your computer or even sleeping. The same is true for using common sense to prevent injury to your back. Believe it or not, there are a number of small things you can do each and every day that will go a long way toward injury prevention. Here are some examples:
Have you ever woken up with neck pain that hurt, but not enough to go see a doctor? Or have you strained your low back while doing such things as lifting heavy boxes or gardening? There are a few things you can do at home to reduce or even eliminate the pain, such as over-the-counter pain medications, ice, reduced activity and massage. If the pain persists for for longer than a week or so, especially if it disruptive to your life, it's time to see a doctor about it.
Medications for back or neck pain can be over-the-counter or prescription. Generally the goal of medication is to relieve pain, but sometimes muscle relaxers are used to loosen up spasms and help you with physical therapy. Muscle relaxers are obtained by prescription only. There are other types of medications, such as narcotics, that are known for their effective pain relieving abilities. Unfortunately they can also lead to difficult health problems like addiction, when taken inappropriately.
All medications -- whether over-the-counter pain meds or prescription -- bring both risks and benefits. It is important to know about these and discuss them with your doctor before taking.
One group of drugs, called NSAIDs, deserves special mention, because they are the most commonly used pain relievers on the market. You may recognize NSAIDs by the names Motrin or aspirin. Available over-the-counter and in stronger doses by prescription, they work by reducing the formation of chemicals called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are responsible for pain that is due to inflammation, such as after an injury. NSAIDs have been a hot topic in the media, sparked by lawsuits and changes in product labeling. Read the label carefully and speak with your doctor before taking NSAIDs.
Consumer Reports rates exercise as the #1 best treatment for back pain. Your GP, physiatrist, physical therapist or other provider will probably suggest some exercises to do to help keep pain away. Do them! With consistency, you may well find that you can keep the pain away for a long time. There are also some great programs out there that address back pain while giving you a full body workout, such as yoga, aquatic exercise or Pilates, to name a few. All of these strengthen the core muscles.
Now this is not quite the same as going into the gym and blasting out your usual routine. When your back is sore and you want to exercise anyway, there are some general modifications and rules of thumb to follow to keep your activity safe.
7. See a Physical Therapist
A physical therapist provides a skilled interface between you and your doctor. This type of professional is a combination of a scientist who knows how the body moves and an artful caretaker. PTs can also evaluate your problem and design a program to get you painfree and functioning again.
A physical therapist can help you get moving and active, teach you how to perform daily activites safely, and can help calm pain and inflammation, thereby reducing your pain. Therapists work in a variety of ways, by using their hands to mobilize and massage, and by applying such things as ice, heat, traction or specialized machines that help decrease pain. They also know many therapeutic exercises and can gear a program to your specific back problem.
When administered or taught by qualified professionals alternative medicine, holistic therapies and bodywork are generally safe and effective for many types of back or neck pain. Holistic treatments are particularly effective with chronic pain. There are few, if any, side effects associated with alternative medicine therapies. One rare exception might be vertebral artery injury, which has been known to happen at chiropractors' offices, but also can be due to surgery and other medical procedures.
Alternative medicine and holistic therapies are built on the premise that the body heals itself; they work by stimulating the body's own natural healing processes.