Back pain can come in many forms and can be in the upper or lower region of the back. Upper back pain often comes from a traumatic injury such as a car accident or sports injury. However, most of the back trouble that people have is lower back pain since that is where the wear-and-tear occurs. Many different treatments are available for low back pain, depending on the cause and how long the person has been experiencing it.
Acute pain from a muscle strain or sprain can be agonizing, but most people find that the agony will go away after a couple of days and significantly improves within a few weeks. Taking some basic measures on your own and without a doctor’s care clears up most cases of acute back pain. However, use good judgment; see a health care professional if your pain is out of the blue is severe even with basic self-care.
- Consider non-prescription strength anti-inflammatories such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen or a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol). If you are having a muscle spasm, you may also need muscle relaxants, which a doctor can prescribe.
- Stay active. Bed rest for a day or two may be absolutely necessary, but back muscles are meant to be mobile. Staying in bed can actually make your muscle stiffer or, even worse, weak. Keep active and try some basic core stretching and strengthening exercises.
- Alternate icing and heating the affected area. Ice it for 12-15 minutes ever couple of hours (never put ice directly on the skin to prevent frost bite) and then apply a heating pad (set to low or medium) or take a hot shower. Some people don’t find this helpful, but it definitely can’t harm you, and it may even make you relax, which can be helpful.
Other treatments that are available for acute pain and do not fall into the self-care category are:
- Chiropractic care (spinal manipulation) – A chiropractor’s aim is to align the spine and increase a joint’s range of motion. Through a series of adjustments, it is possible to align the spine, which in turn can reduce inflammation that may be the cause of the pain.
- Physical Therapy – A goal for a physical therapist is to strengthen muscles so that they can effectively do their job in supporting healthy and proper posture.
If back pain becomes chronic (lasting more than six weeks) other treatments might become necessary. Causes of chronic pain include herniated disks, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, facet joint block, spondylosis and sometimes cancer. Chronic pain can lead to depression or sometimes anxiety from fear that what you are doing could be further damaging your back. Chronic conditions are usually treated similarly to acute pain sufferers in that core strengthening exercises are highly recommended. Treatment regimens are often more successful when stretching and aerobic and strengthening exercises is regularly practiced. Elongating and strengthening the muscles of the core can help to stabilize and support the spine so that the other treatments can be a success. Treatments for chronic conditions can vary.
Chronic pain treatments:
- Drugs and Injections – Most conditions have a corresponding drug protocol that if necessary your health care professional could prescribe. Corticosteroid injections, to block pain sensation or reduce inflammation maybe be used in instances where bone is hitting bone. If your pain is severe, your doctor may recommend short-term use of an opiate painkiller, epidural steroid injection, or muscle relaxants.
- Biofeedback, therapy, yoga and/or meditation – Coping with long-term pain can be stressful, upsetting and possibly even depressing. Adapting relaxation techniques into your treatment is widely recommended by doctors and other healers. Yoga can also help to stretch and strengthen muscles!
- Antidepressants – if pain and anxiety leads to depression, doctors sometimes prescribe antidepressants.
- Surgery – Surgery is rarely needed for low back pain (relative to how many people experience it). Most doctors will wait to until after non-surgical treatments have been attempted for 1 to 3 months without improvement.
See your health care professional immediately if you experience numbness, tingling or loss of bowel or bladder control.