Managing Back Pain
By: Lee Hughes, MD
Active Member of the Flowers Hospital Medical Staff
Anyone who has ever suffered from back pain knows it can be debilitating – making even simple tasks such as carrying groceries or climbing stairs seem nearly impossible. With four out of five adults experiencing back pain during their lives, it is one of the leading causes of missed work and lost productivity. In fact, Americans spend more than $100 billion to treat back pain each year.
Because the spine is impacted by nearly every move the body makes, the susceptibility to injury and pain is high. While pain is often caused by strained muscles and ligaments that occur from heavy or improper lifting, other common causes include:
- Disc problems – As many people age, the intervertebral discs in the spinal column began to break down and lose their cushioning ability, resulting in severe pain. Ruptured or herniated discs can have the same effect when disc matter pinches the surrounding nerves.
- Injuries – Injuries sustained in car accidents or falls can result in fractured vertebrae. Osteoporosis, a condition which weakens the bones, can also result in painful fractures.
- Conditions and diseases – Scoliosis, which causes curvature of the spine, and various forms of arthritis including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are also common causes of back pain.
Most back pain diminishes with time, however many sufferers find relief through over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Applying sources of heat and cold, such as an ice bag followed by a heating pad, may also help.
Though physical activity was once thought to worsen back pain, most doctors now recommend skipping prolonged bedrest in favor of light activity, which may speed healing. Patients should avoid activities that aggravate back pain, such as heavy lifting or twisting.
For those with intense or chronic back pain, it may become necessary to investigate other treatment options. Injections of steroids; which are anti-inflammatory medications, may also be helpful for those suffering from back and leg pain due to disc problems.
Back pain can be debilitating, however most aches and pains improve within a few weeks. Patients should seek immediate medical attention if back pain:
- Becomes constant or severe – especially when lying down;
- Spreads down one or both legs;
- Weakness or tingling in one or both legs;
- Results in new bladder or bowel problems;
- Is associated with abdominal pain, fever or unexpected weight loss.
Often, patients find they can avoid or lessen back pain by taking a few simple steps to improve their overall health. Regular, low-impact activities such as swimming or walking, combined with core strengthening exercises, can increase strength, endurance and flexibility. Maintaining a healthy weight can also prevent back pain, as extra pounds can add strain to back muscles.
Speak with your physician for more information on the prevention and treatment of back pain, or call Flowers Hospital’s Pain Clinic at 944-7088.
About Flowers Hospital
Flowers Hospital has served the healthcare needs of the Wiregrass for over 50 years. The facility is not only an important resource for the Dothan community, it also serves as a major tertiary referral center for the Tri-State area of south Alabama, southwest Georgia, and northwest Florida.
By combining responsible personnel of approximately 1,300 employees, modern equipment and supplies, effective management, sophisticated support services, up-to-date professional education programs, and a staff of over 250 exceptional physicians, Flowers Hospital is able to assure its patients of quality healthcare.