Solutions for lower back pain can include surgery and drug-free options.
First you miss work. Then you start skipping activities. If you’re like 85 percent of all adults, lower back pain has struck at least once and might even be grinding your life to a halt.
It’s fair to say that Americans are often conditioned to seek pain relief through medication, but pain medications can actually make you feel worse — especially in the case of addictive narcotics. The continued use of pain meds over time has been shown to increase pain sensitivity and make it more difficult to get relief.
Before you jump onto that runaway train of painkillers and correctional surgery, take it slow and try these treatments first:
Hot or Cold Packs
This treatment can help ease pain, facilitate stretching and reduce inflammation. When the pain kicks in, ice your back for 20 minutes at a time and switch to heat after 48 hours.
You’re hurting, so exercise might seem like the last thing you should do, but studies show that inactivity actually worsens the pain. Activity pumps blood and nutrients throughout your body, which can improve the inflammation. Walking and back strengthening exercises are best.
PT can help restore motion, especially when used early on. Physical therapists also have access to ultrasound, electrical stimulation, traction and sometimes chiropractic manipulation and/or acupuncture to help provide temporary relief.
The Arthritis Care and Research Foundation found Tai Chi can be effective in back pain treatments. This gentle exercise coordinates movement and breath and is said to free the flow of chi, a life-force energy that, when blocked, can cause stress and illness.
Taking things up a notch, your doctor might recommend spinal injections for recurrent and/or acute lower back pain. The number of options has grown: acupuncture injection therapy, epidural injections, nerve block injections, sacroiliac joint injections, cortisone injections, trigger point injections and lumbar epidural steroid injections among them. Some people report permanent pain relief after an injection.
Spinal Cord Stimulation
For patients who haven’t achieved relief, spinal cord stimulation helps block the brain’s ability to sense pain. Thin wires placed near the spinal column release harmless signals that have been described as “numbing” or “tingling.” Some 85 to 90 percent of patients report a 50 to 70 percent pain reduction after SCS.
Maybe you’ve already had a doctor recommend surgery? Maybe you’re already on a pain killer? Unless you go under the knife tomorrow morning, it’s not too late for a pain management consultation. A board-certified interventional pain medicine physician is a good place to start as they are trained in less-invasive methods for potential healing.
Look beyond your back for help.
There’s so much more to back pain than, well, pain in the back. Within your body, there is a host of physical and psychological elements that help determine your overall health and can have bearing on the pain you are experiencing.
Elements that can contribute to and also help with healing back pain:
The psychology of pain
Physical condition and body mechanics
If you’re not healthy, it’s much harder for your back to get healthy. A multidiscipline approach helps cover a multitude of needs and potentially clear up a list of problems body-wide.
Pain can be a manifestation of bigger, but less obvious, emotional issues a patient is experiencing. Pain medication certainly won’t treat that root problem.
Often through education on these areas, including information about the probable course of lower back pain — which is that it usually clears up on its own without invasive treatment within six weeks or less — a conservative approach to back pain can prove successful.
Only 20 percent of people with acute back pain go on to become chronic sufferers, so why seek out intensive interventions until you let time and gentle methods heal the pain first?