Back pain is one of the most common painful and non-life-threatening conditions. It affects four in five Americans at some point in their lives. The good news is that back pain need not govern how you live your life.
If you have back pain, medication, exercise, and changes in your lifestyle are likely to offer the most relief. Surgery is useful in a minority of people
Most back pain isn't dangerous, but it's important to learn the "red flag" situations that require immediate medical attention. These include:
- back pain that occurs at the same time as a fever
- leg weakness that comes on abruptly or gets progressively worse
- numbness in the groin
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- pain that worsens instead of getting better
- inability to find a comfortable position for sitting or sleeping during times when you feel back pain
Other self-care steps you can take to mend your back include different types of exercise and complementary therapies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage, as well as choosing the right mattress.
Back Pain Articles
Hot and cold compresses, physical activity, exercise, and safe lifting techniques help men to heal and to prevent low back pain. Recent research shows that acetaminophen (Tylenol and generics) has limited benefit for low back pain, but it remains appealing because it is safer for the stomach than other over-the-counter pain relievers. But acetaminophen is still a reasonable thing to try before moving on to less stomach-friendly options, such as the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and common aspirin.
One of the few clinical trials to compare surgery to physical therapy for low back pain indicates that they are equally effective.
A study found that likely triggers for episodes of back pain include carrying heavy loads; lifting loads in an awkward position; and being tired, fatigued, or distracted. Sexual activity and drinking alcohol were not tied strongly to new back pain.
Research suggests that when added to usual back pain care, massage can provide extra pain relief, better function, and quicker return to daily activities. It’s unclear what type of massage works best. For best results, ask your personal physician, family, and friends to recommend a therapist. Find out if a local hospital or medical center has an integrative medicine program with massage therapy. Check if the therapist is certified by a recognized professional group, such as the American Massage Therapy Association.
Chiropractic is a health care system that holds that the structure of the body, particularly the spine, affects the function of every part of the body. Chiropractors try to correct the body’s alignment to relieve pain and improve function and to help the body heal itself. A chiropractor may advise you about changing your biomechanics and posture and suggest other treatments and techniques. The ultimate goal of chiropractic is to help relieve pain and help patients better manage their condition at home.
You can make stand-up desk from an old door and two sawhorses, customize a store-bought desk, or pay a company for a ready-made one. Here are some options.
Doctors use back x-rays to examine the vertebrae in the spine for fractures, arthritis, or spine deformities such as scoliosis, as well as for signs of infection or cancer. X-rays can be taken separately for the three areas of the spine: the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back), and lumbar spine (lower back). Occasionally, doctors x-ray the pelvis to help diagnose the cause of back pain.
Low back pain is caused by disc rupture or arthritis. It can be treated with painkillers, exercise, physical therapy, steroid injections, or surgery.
Back pain can be a symptom of many different illnesses and conditions. The main cause of the pain can be a problem with the back itself or by a problem in another part of the body. In many cases, doctors can't find a cause for the pain. When a cause is found, common explanations include:
Stress or injury involving the back muscles, including back sprain or strain; chronic overload of back muscles caused by obesity; and short term overload of back muscles caused by any unusual stress, such as lifting or pregnancy
Disease or injury involving the back bones (vertebrae), including fracture from an accident or as a result of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis
Degenerative arthritis, a "wear and tear" process that may be related to age, injury and genetic predisposition.
Disease or injury involving the spinal nerves, including nerve injury caused by a protruding disk (a fibrous cushion between vertebrae) or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal)
A CT scan of the back may view one or more of the three areas of the spine: the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back), and lumbar spine (lower back).
Doctors can use a CT scan of the spine to examine the vertebrae in the spine for fractures, arthritis, or pinching of the nerves or spinal cord (spinal stenosis). Occasionally, doctors x-ray the pelvis to help diagnose the cause of back pain.
A CT scan of the spine can be combined with a test called a "myelogram" (discussed separately) to give a clear view of the spinal cord and places where the vertebral bones might be pinching it.