Back pain may be a fact of life for millions of Americans, but there are some proven non-surgical back pain relief techniques that can vastly improve quality of life. At any given time, up to 31 million Americans are struggling with back pain, and almost 80 percent of all Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Around the world, back pain is the leading cause of missed work days and permanent disability.
For most back pain sufferers, this health condition interferes with many daily activities including work, socializing and sleep. While many people visit a doctor to diagnose and treat their back pain condition, in most cases, the symptoms resolve on their own within a few weeks. Only about 7 percent of patients actually develop a chronic back condition.
In past generations, Americans were more willing to accept back pain as a feature of life, but more people today are seeking medical treatment for their condition. The most common forms of treatment include:
- Prescription drugs—the most popular way to relieve back pain is to take a pain killer prescribed by a doctor. More than 58 percent of back pain patients use pharmacological therapies to treat their condition.
- Chiropractic treatment—almost 54 percent of back pain sufferers see a chiropractor to alleviate back pain.
- Physical therapy—the third most popular back pain therapy is physical therapy. Almost 48 percent of back pain patients.
An Introduction to the Back
Your back is an awe-inspiring result of evolution. This combination of bone, muscles, connective tissue and nerves serves as the central support of your body. It is amazing how many functions your back fulfills including organ protection, nerve conduction and trunk flexibility.
As wonderful as your back is when it functions properly, it can also be an excruciating producer of pain when it isn’t. In many cases, back pain is a result of imperfections in the spine which is composed of 24 bones called vertebrae. This hard structure encases the spinal cord, the central bundle of nerves that conducts impulses back and forth between all parts of the body and the brain.
Your spine is intended to support your upper body and protect your vulnerable spinal cord, but injury or illness can cause it to malfunction. The most common areas where pain may appear are in the lower back and neck where there is significant spinal curvature, but pain may originate anywhere in the back.
Most Common Types of Back Pain
- Spondylolisthesis—this condition involves a fracture in a spinal vertebra that leads to a misalignment. This can produce pressure on a nerve and may present as muscle stiffness or weakness, buttocks pain or shooting pain down the leg.
- Cervical radiculopathy—if your nerve roots in the cervical vertebrae are compressed, you may lose sensation or experience pain or weakness in the neck, arms or shoulder.
- Arthritis—This condition degrades the protective tissue between vertebrae, allowing them rub against one another. This can produce a painful condition known as bone spurs.
- Sciatica—a pinched sciatic nerve (found in the lower back) may produce lower back pain and pain in the legs, especially when seated.
Non-surgical Back Pain Treatment Options
If you visit a pain specialist for your back pain, one of the most likely recommendations you will get is to adopt a healthier lifestyle. This may not be what you want to hear, but improving your overall fitness can dramatically improve your pain symptoms without putting you at risk through surgery or potentially addictive pain medications. You should consider the following health options:
- Lose weight—if you are overweight, you are putting undue stress on your spine and lower back. Losing some pounds in a smart, long-term approach can greatly help alleviate pain symptoms.
- Eat better—this is closely related to losing weight, but a nutritious diet may counteract back pain in other ways as well. Fruits and vegetables help fight inflammation a key component of many kinds of back pain. A diet rich in calcium can stave off osteoporosis, a major risk for older people. You should also avoid processed and fried foods.
- Exercise regularly—a regular exercise routine will not only help you lose some extra pounds, it will improve your ability to tolerate pain and produce natural pain killers. You should include some cardiovascular exercise into your routine as well as exercises that strengthen your back.
- Live with care—depending on the type of back pain you are experiencing, minor lifestyle changes could make a big difference. Analyze your posture and try to make minor improvements over time. Ask your doctor if the shoes you wear are optimal for your condition; if not, consider orthopedics. Take care when lifting objects and wear support gear if needed.
Medications for Back Pain Relief
If you feel that other therapies are not offering sufficient pain relief, then you should discuss medications with your physician. In almost all cases, your doctor should recommend over-the-counter medications like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) or naproxen (Aleve) first. Be honest about any health conditions, as even OTC drugs can lead to health complications for some people.
Most people respond well to these OTC medications. There is a growing body of research that supports the idea that OTC medications are as effective as prescription pain killers. More importantly, there is a much lower risk of dependency.
If your condition does not improve from OTC drug use, your doctor may prescribe more powerful drugs. Among these are muscle relaxants like carisoprodol which can alleviate muscle strain, a common secondary pain condition. You should not drive or operate heavy machinery until you are accustomed to the effects of these drugs.
Another class of pain killers is opioids which are prescribed only for patients with chronic back pain or very intense pain like that following major surgery. Initially, your physician may prescribe milder opioids like Vicodin or Tylenol with codeine. If your pain persists, your doctor may then move you on to more powerful drugs like morphine.
Article written by: Dr. Robert Moghim – CEO/Founder Colorado Pain Care
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