Back Pain Relief and Remedies

Steven Mott by Steven Mott | Licensed since 2012
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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Back pain is common — nearly everyone has it at some time in life, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The possible causes for back pain are many and here are just a few examples:

  • Tense muscles
  • Stress
  • Ruptured disks resulting from accidents or falls

Certain health conditions might also cause back pain, such as arthritis, scoliosis, infections, and fibromyalgia, as well as the natural process of aging.

What causes back pain?

Let’s explore what may be behind back pain. Your spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae, which are stacked one on top of the other, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). Between each vertebra are small joints that allow your spine to move and disks that act to prevent your bones from rubbing against each other. There can be many causes; here are just a few.

  • Injury
  • Strains and sprains
  • Curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
  • Ruptured or herniated discs (when the discs between the vertebrae bulge outward and press the nerves, for example)
  • Degenerated discs (when discs between the vertebrae deteriorate and don’t cushion the vertebrae well)
  • Spinal stenosis (described below)
  • Sciatica (nerve pain extending from the spine to the leg)

Nearly all people experience some signs of wear and tear on the spinal discs and joints as they age, reports the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The Arthritis Association reports that magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies show that almost everyone older than age 60 has degeneration of the discs. For many people, this causes pain and stiffness because the bones start to rub against each other. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) notes when the “wear and tear” affects joints in your spine, it can cause a common back condition: osteoarthritis. It can lead to further back problems, including spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows, presses on the spinal cord, and causes pain, according to the AAOS.

What treatments are available to relieve back pain?

You doctor may be able to help you find back pain relief. You should visit him or her for diagnosis and treatment advice.

Treatment options for back pain typically fall into three categories: medications, physical medicine, and in some cases, surgery, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains that appropriate treatment may depend on whether your back pain is acute or chronic. Acute back pain comes on quickly and lasts no longer than 6 weeks. Acute back pain may be the result of a trauma, such as a fall. Chronic back pain usually lasts more than 3 months.

Acute back pain relief typically occurs over time and without treatment, notes the NIH. You may get some back pain relief by using pain medications (described below) according to your doctor’s instructions.

Often relief from chronic back pain can be achieved by using hot and cold packs, massage, or through proper exercise, including stretching, reports the NIH. Your doctor or a physical therapist can recommend an appropriate exercise program to help relieve back pain.

Other non-medical activities that may relieve back pain include changes in behavior that may be triggering back pain. For example, the NIH says you may get back pain relief by training yourself to bend at the knees when lifting objects, or by exercising to strengthen muscles that support the back.

Medications used in the treatment of chronic back pain may include over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Consult your doctor before taking any medications.

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant or steroid injections to manage more severe, chronic back pain that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain relievers.

Usually surgery is the treatment option of last resort.  The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends that it is best to try nonsurgical options for 6 months to a year before considering surgery.  Surgery for low back pain should be considered only when nonsurgical treatment options have been tried and have failed. Types of back surgery include:

  • Spinal fusion to eliminate the motion between bone segments
  • Disk replacement (similar to knee or hip replacement)
  • Vertebroplasty to repair compression fractures of the vertebrae caused by osteoporosis
  • Foraminotomy to remove blockage and relieve pressure on the spinal nerve
  • Discectomy to remove a specific disk that’s causing pain
  • Spinal laminectomy to open up the spinal column and remove pressure on the nerves.

How to prevent back pain

According to the NIH, some of the best ways you may be able to stave off back pain include the following habits. Of course, check with your doctor before trying any of these.

  • Practice good posture when you stand or sit. If you have to lift something heavy, bend your legs and keep your back straight.
  • Maintain a healthy weight; lose weight if you ‘re overweight.
  • Make sure you get an adequate amount of calcium and vitamin D each day.
  • Exercise regularly to keep your back muscles strong and flexible.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes also suggests the following activities may be helpful in keeping your back healthy.

  • Always stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
  • Always sleep on a firm surface. Also, sleeping on one’s side with the knees drawn up in a fetal position can help open up the joints in the spine and relieve pressure by reducing the curvature of the spine.
  • At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height.

If you experience persistent back pain or back pain following a fall, don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor and see what can be done to provide back pain relief and whether you need treatment for an underlying health condition or injury.

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