My Aching Back

How to take back your life and lessen (or lose) the pain

Does your back go out more than you do? If so, you’re living with more pain than you should.

Back pain is serious. It’s one of the most common reasons people visit a doctor and miss work. It’s also a leading cause of disability.

The worst part of pain is how it destroys a person’s ability to have personal autonomy,” according to Andrew Porter, DO, a spine and back specialist at Adena. “Pain can be an isolated force because it prevents a person from hanging out with friends, visiting with family, fulfilling typical family rolls and sometimes providing for family.”

Because back pain is common, companies try to sell you everything from shoe inserts and specially designed furniture to stress management programs and mattresses to help relieve your pain. Unfortunately, there is no proven science behind these claims.

It’s not all hopeless. There are things you can do to prevent or relieve most back pain issues.

The Symptoms of Back Pain

Besides the obvious (pain), back pain ranges from muscle aches to shooting, stabbing or burning sensations. The pain can radiate down your leg or get worse when you stand, walk, bend, twist or lift.

Back pain could also signal a more serious medical problem if your pain:

  • Causes bowel or bladder issues
  • Includes a fever
  • Was caused by a fall or injury

What Causes Back Pain

Back pain can develop for no reason. Conditions that cause the pain could include:

  • Arthritis - Aging, genetics and wear can cause arthritis in the joints of your spine, which creates pain and stiffness.
  • A bulging disc - The soft material inside a disc can lose cells or become inflamed, causing low back pain. It can also press on a nerve, causing leg pain.
  • Sacroiliac joint pain - Located where your lower spine and pelvis connect, inflammation or wear can cause pain in the buttocks or the back of the thigh.
  • Muscle and ligament strain - Repeated heavy lifting or sudden, awkward movements can strain your muscles and ligaments, which causes back spasms.
  • Skeletal irregularities - Abnormal curves, defects or abnormal bone sizes in the spine can cause pain.
  • Infections and tumors - Certain infections and tumors of the vertebra or spinal canal can cause discomfort in your back.

Risk factors

Anyone can have back pain, even children. Certain factors can put you at higher risk, such as:

  • Age - Back pain is more common as you get older, starting around age 30 or 40.
  • Being overweight -  Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
  • Disease - Certain types of arthritis and cancer can cause pain.
  • Lack of exercise - Weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen forces your back to work harder.
  • Poor lifting - Using your back instead of your legs puts stress on the wrong parts of your body.
  • Psychological issues -  People prone to depression and anxiety have a greater risk for pain in their back.
  • Smoking - Smokers cough deeper and more often, which can lead to herniated disks. Smoking can also decrease blood flow to the spine and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

How to prevent the pain

Ways to keep your back healthy and strong include:

  • Exercise - Regular low-impact aerobic activities, as well as walking and swimming,  can strengthen your back and help your muscles work better.
  • Build muscle strength and flexibility – Exercises that strengthen your core can help take pressure off your back.
  • Lose weight - Being overweight puts a strain on your entire body, especially your back.
  • Stop smoking – It’s good for your overall health and reduces the risks associated with lower back pain.
  • Stand up straight - Don't slouch. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.
  • Sit smarter - Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Keep your knees and hips level, and try to get up and move around more often.
  • Lift carefully -  Let your legs do the work and keep your back straight. Bend only at the knees and hold the weight close to your body.
  • Avoid too much bed rest - Lying down for long periods can weaken the back muscles and make pain worse.

Treatment options

Back pain is a complex condition, and people experience it differently. Treatment can include:

  • Rest
  • Changes in your activity
  • Physical therapy 
  • Alternative health treatments (such as massage or acupuncture)
  • Pain medication, including muscle relaxers and topical pain relievers
  • Spinal manipulation and chiropractic care 
  • Steroid injections 
  • Surgery

Surgery is always a last resort to alleviate pain. If you have unrelenting, radiating leg pain or progressive muscle weakness caused by a pinched nerve, you may benefit from a surgical procedure.

When you should see a doctor

Most back pain will gradually improve with home treatments and self-care within a few weeks. You should contact a medical professional if your back pain:

  • Lasts more than a few weeks
  • Is severe and does not improve with rest
  • Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee
  • Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
  • Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

Millions of people live with low back pain. That doesn’t mean you have to. Stiffness, pain and limited movement can affect your quality of life. There’s a treatment option that can help you relieve your pain and start enjoying life again.

“Nearly every adult will experience backache at some point in their life,” said Dr. Porter. The best way for each individual to get what they need is to visit with one of our board certified pain medicine specialists so that a comprehensive treatment plan can be put together.”

To get relief for your back pain, call the Adena Orthopedic and Spine Institute at 740-779-4598.