Oh, My Aching Back!

Back pain is an all too common complaint, ranging from a dull ache, to a burning sensation, to a sharp stabbing pain. It is the number one cause of disability under the age of 45 in the US. According to US News and World Reports, and it costs this country approximately $100 billion per year in lost productivity and health care bills. And it affects 80-90% of Americans at some point in their lives.

Fortunately, most of these cases resolve on their own without any medical intervention. However, about 1/3 of people who have back pain severe enough to see their doctor, continue to have back pain after 6 months. While some of these cases are due to problems that need to be treated with either medications or surgery, such cases do not make up the majority of people who suffer from back pain. It is important however to know when you need to see your doctor and not just “tough it out”.

When to See a Doctor

If you have any of the following you should see a doctor to further evaluate your back pain:

• A recent significant trauma

• Any trauma over 50

• Loss of bowel or bladder function

• Unexplained weight loss

• Unexplained fever

• Immunosuppression

• A history of current cancer

• Current or previous intravenous drug use

• Osteoporosis

• Numbness or tingling anywhere

• Pain that shoots down an arm or a leg

• Current or previous use of chronic corticosteroid medications

• Over the age of 70

• Localized muscle weakness

• The pain persists for more than 6 weeks

For the multitude of cases that do not need medicinal or surgical intervention, there are a handful of things to do. Ice or heat can often be beneficial. The old thought is to use ice for the first 24-48 hours and then switch to heat. Often your body will let you know which one it needs based on which one feels better. Over-the-counter pain relievers are another option, but carefully read the instructions. You should contact your doctor before you add another medication to your regimen. Stretches and exercises to strengthen your low back are also a good option.  You may want to see your doctor or get referred to physical therapy briefly just to make sure you are doing them right, and are not going to cause more damage. Exercises such as yoga and Pilates have both been shown to help back pain. If you need help with these exercises often physical therapy or private lessons can help. This will ensure that you have proper form, which is essential to these exercises. Osteopathic manipulation has also been shown to help with back pain but, I’ll talk more about that in a minute. While you are undergoing these various treatments and therapies your doctor may choose to give you medication that can make these activities more tolerable. It is important that if you choose to take these medications that you only take them as directed and realize that they are not designed to relieve all of the pain. Though it can help you maintain your functionality while your back is healing.

How Osteopathic Manipulation Can Help

Osteopathic manipulation which is a form of manual medicine that works with the various tissues of the body (bones, muscles, tendons, etc.) to improve their overall function has also been shown to help alleviate low back pain. It has been recommended in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and is a part of the national guidelines for the treatment of back pain. Multiple studies have shown that osteopathic manipulation can help alleviate back pain.  Often amidst activities we can bend and twist is such a way that creates a strain the body, which can lead to back pain. Sometime this strain occurs at the site of the pain, but it is also quite common for the pain to be caused by a restriction found elsewhere in the body and the discomfort will continue to reoccur if the only spot that is fixed is the area of pain. Using just his/her hands an osteopathic physician can find and identify areas in the body that are restricted in their motion. Using osteopathic manipulation these can be relaxed allowing the body to function properly and allowing the back pain to resolve.

How Osteopathic Manipulation Can Help

Even though it is always good to know what to do once you have back pain, avoiding it in the first place is certainly best. There are a multitude of factors that play into maintaining good back health. Even when there clearly is a single inciting event such as a fall or a car accident, there are many things that can contribute the likelihood of these events causing the back pain. The majority of lower back pain is preventable. Some suggestions on how you can prevent back pain include:

• Stay at a healthy weight & eat a proper diet.

• Do not over exercise, when the supporting muscles of the spine are exhausted more problems occur.

• Remain active.

• Avoid prolonged inactivity or bed rest; it will only make back pain worse.

• Warm up or stretch before and after exercising or other physical activities.

• Maintain proper posture.

• Wear comfortable, properly fitting, low-heeled shoes.

• Sleep on a mattress of medium firmness to minimize any curve in your spine.

• Lift with your knees, keep the object close to your body, and do not twist when lifting.

• Quit smoking. Smoking impairs blood flow which results in oxygen and nutrient deprivation within the tissues of the body.

• Ensure that your workstation is ergonomically correct.

While prevention is certainly the best way to go, it is highly likely that you will have back pain at some point in your life. If you take the right steps and see your physician when needed, you will reduce the likelihood of this being a lifelong issue.

Old Dominion Osteopatic Medicine

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