Knowing the cause of back pain helps detemine the best remedy

BOSTON, MA — Some 70%–80% of men (and nearly as many women) have endured a bout of moderate to severe back pain. And the problem goes well beyond pain and inconvenience; the annual cost of medical care and lost productivity is more than $50 billion. It would be encouraging to report that this investment of time and money results in recovery, but in most cases back pain will resolve as quickly without medical attention as it will with a doctor's care, according to the November 2006 issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch.

If you have garden-variety back pain, you can probably take care of it yourself. The trick is to know what to do and to recognize those symptoms that really do call for prompt medical tests and treatments. To help you help yourself, the November issue of Harvard Men's Health Watch contains a special supplement on back exercises.

In the vast majority of cases, back pain is caused by a mechanical problem that can't be pinpointed exactly. But occasional cases result from some other, more serious causes. The possibilities include infections, vascular disease, and tumors, among other things. That's why it's important to know the "red flag" warning signs that suggest serious problems. Among these are recent major injury, radiation of pain down a leg, pain that is constant, pain in the upper back or chest, unexplained fever or weight loss, and pain that increases at night.

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