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Back pain is the most common disability worldwide. In many developed countries, back problems are among the most frequent reasons for doctor’s visits and work absences. It has been estimated that 4 in 5 adults will experience some type of back pain during their lifetime. Simply put, back pain is a problem for most of us!
Though most back problems are not caused by serious or chronic conditions, aches and pains from the neck and shoulders down to the tailbone can be bothersome at best and debilitating at worst. By managing and treating your pain appropriately, however, you can reduce or eliminate your symptoms, allowing you to get back to the activities you love.
Back Pain: Common Causes
Before treating your back problems, it is important to reflect upon the potential causes for your pain. The back and spine form a complex, deeply interconnected network; back pain may stem from the bones, muscles, ligaments, joints, or the interaction of these many parts. Long-standing issues, such as obesity or chronic poor posture, can gradually cause back pain over time. Pain may also be triggered by a single false move or physical injury. In some cases, back pain is a sign of a condition unrelated to the physical structures of the back, arising instead from another disease or illnesses. By determining the cause, or likely cause, of your back pain, you can better move forward with pain management and treatment.
Preventing Back Pain
Back pain can oftentimes be reduced by improving one’s overall lifestyle. Maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity, sticking to a healthy diet, and avoiding smoking are three simple ways to support the health of your back and spine. Stretching regularly, maintaining good posture throughout the day, and setting up your workspace in an ergonomically-friendly fashion are also critical tools for reducing strain-related back problems. Sleeping on a supportive mattress and avoiding high-heeled shoes may also make a difference in your pain levels. If you can manage to do so, consider integrating strength-building exercises, such as yoga or pilates, into your daily routine, too.
Though implementing these lifestyle changes may not eliminate your back pain entirely, taking care of your body is the best way to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
Non-Invasive, Drug-Free Pain Management
Ideally, back pain should be treated in a non-invasive manner. In most cases, patients will want to begin by pursuing treatment options that do not involve medication or surgery.
Physically treatments, such as exercise and manual manipulation, are often the first approaches used in treating back problems. A doctor or physical therapist may recommend certain stretches and exercises that can be used to strengthen and relax the back. For some, manual manipulation, such as physical therapy or massage, may be used to relieve pain. Heating or cooling the area in pain may also reduce symptoms in some individuals, particularly in instances where pain has resulted from a sudden physical injury. Psychological tools, such as biofeedback and cognitive behavioral therapy, may also be of use in reducing patient suffering.
For some individuals, the use of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, often known as TENS, is a powerful treatment option. This form of electrotherapy stimulates sensory nerves in the body, thereby reducing sensations of pain. TENS may be effective in treating various forms of acute and chronic back pain.
If such non-invasive treatment options have not been effective, drug-based options may be considered.
Drug-Based Pain Management
Drugs and medication are often used to help relieve back pain. In instances of low-grade back pain, over-the-counter analgesics, such as acetaminophen, may be taken. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin, are also commonly used to treat back pain. Though these drugs are ideal for short-term pain management, other health problems, such as organ damage and ulcer formation, may be triggered by long-term use.
For individuals suffering from muscle- or nerve-based pain, muscle relaxants or neuromodulating medications may be prescribed. In some instances, anticonvulsant drugs or antidepressants may be offered to treat neuropathic pain or other related conditions.
Though opioid narcotics are also a powerful tool in combating back pain, these are generally best suited for treating severe, short-term bouts of pain, as complications and addiction can arise from long-term use.
Invasive Pain Management
If both non-invasive and drug-based treatment options have been ineffective in reducing your pain levels, invasive treatment options may be worth considering. Injectable drugs, for instance, may be more effective at treating back pain at its source. These anesthetic or steroid-based drugs, which may be used to treat acute joint, muscle, or nerve pain, may provide short- or long-term relief.
In some instances, a procedure known as radiofrequency radioablation may be performed to reduce nerve pain in the back. In certain groups of patients, this process, which deadens painful nerves in the back, results in long-term pain relief.
Some back pain sufferers experience success from an invasive treatment technique known as prolotherapy. In prolotherapy, an inflammatory agent is injected into tissues in the back, triggering a healing response. Though not yet widely researched, some patients claim prolotherapy significantly reduced their pain levels.
For some, invasive back surgery or implanted devices such as nerve stimulators may be considered as methods for treating serious, long-term pain. Though surgery may be the best treatment option for some, it is crucial to research potential risks and complications before undergoing such a serious procedure.
If, after striving to reduce your symptoms on your own, you are still suffering from persistent back pain, it may be time to consult your doctor to discuss further treatment options. Though it may take more than one attempt, there is likely a treatment method that will significantly reduce your back pain symptoms. By finding the appropriate methods for managing your pain, you can significantly improve your quality of life.
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