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Back Pain Archive

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Mind over back pain

Published May 4, 2016

If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, it’s only natural to assume you have an injury. But recent research has suggested that our feelings, emotions, and behaviors may have much more to do with chronic back pain than any detectable problem with the spine — and this has just been confirmed by a study in JAMA. Here, we’ve listed what really works to help combat chronic back pain — and what you can do today to rid yourself of it.

The psychology of low back pain

Published April 25, 2016

Some aspects of chronic back pain really are “in your head” — but that doesn’t mean you’re making it up. Rather, research has shown that when pain is chronic, the brain processes it not via the usual “pain” circuits, but via the “emotion” circuits. This means that you can actually reduce chronic pain by changing your psychological and emotional response to it. We’ve listed several techniques that have been proven to reduce chronic back pain.

Prescription pain pills: Worth the risks?

Updated February 19, 2016

Thorough risk assessment and family assistance may help you take them more safely.

Prescription pain pills such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) are in a class of drugs known as opioids. They're typically used to treat severe pain after surgery, and sometimes to treat chronic pain. But these drugs come with many risks, including addiction. Does that put you at risk if you take opioids? "You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis," says Dr. Hilary Connery, an addiction psychiatrist at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital.

Risks and benefits

Opioids are powerful painkillers that block messages of pain to the brain and decrease the body's perception of discomfort. They may also create a feeling of euphoria. Opioids are especially useful in the short term, such as the initial weeks following joint replacement. Common side effects include nausea, itching, drowsiness, or constipation.

Sciatica: Of all the nerve

Updated February 19, 2016

Sciatica does not need to be a pain to treat. There are several ways to minimize and manage flare-ups.

Sciatica is one of the most common, yet misunderstood, types of pain. As many as 40% of people will get it during their life, and it becomes more frequent as you age.

"People who suffer from acute or chronic back pain tend to be more susceptible to sciatica," says Dr. Jeffrey N. Katz, professor of medicine and orthopedic surgery at Harvard Medical School. "Your risk also rises if you're obese, if you smoke, or if you're sedentary."

Cold and flu warning: The dangers of too much acetaminophen

Published January 27, 2016

Many common cold and flu medications and prescription-strength pain relievers contain acetaminophen (Tylenol) as one of their active ingredients. If you take several of these drugs at once during a bout of cold or flu, you might accidentally take more than the safe dose of acetaminophen, potentially causing liver damage. It’s always best to read the labels — and to keep in mind that most winter viruses get better on their own with rest, fluids, and time.

The “right” goal when managing pain

Published December 18, 2015

When it comes to pain management, focusing only on reducing the intensity of pain may lead to treatments that do as much harm as good. Ideally, pain-management plans should be tailored to each patient and include a range of therapies that not only reduce pain but also help improve pain-related quality-of-life problems.

Low back pain attacks: One pill may be enough

Updated December 12, 2015


Image: Thinkstock

In the Journals

Adding muscle relaxers or narcotic pain relievers to the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) naproxen (Aleve) did not improve pain or function for people who went to emergency rooms seeking help for severe low back pain, according to a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study followed a group of 320 people who visited the same emergency room in the Bronx, N.Y. None had symptoms that would suggest disk-related back pain, like shooting pain down the back of the legs (sciatica). They were all advised to take naproxen for 10 days and were chosen at random to add one of three additional pills: the muscle relaxer cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril); ox-ycodone (Percocet), a narcotic pain reliever; or a placebo.

The Alexander Technique can help you (literally) unwind

Published November 23, 2015

The Alexander Technique (AT) was developed by a Shakespearean actor who discovered that muscle tension and poor posture caused him to lose his voice when he performed. His methods are still used today to help people unlearn negative habits and patterns of movement and learn how to return the body to a relaxed state. Although AT still enjoys a lot of popularity among artists and performers, it can help anyone move through life with more ease and less pain.

What type of mattress is best for people with low back pain?

Updated February 12, 2021


Back pain is one of the top reasons that people begin to lose mobility in middle age. Pain can keep people from engaging in physical activity, making it more difficult for them to maintain a healthy weight and keep up their strength, stamina, and balance as they age. So treating and managing back pain that results from injuries or health problems is crucial for staying on the path of a healthy and active life.

Considering that most people spend roughly a third of their lives lying in bed, choosing the right mattress is essential for managing low back pain. It can make the difference in whether you can sleep at night and function the next day.

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