Back Pain – Part II

By July 28, 2022Health Tips

Last week, we discussed some of the causes of back pain and things that can increase your risk of developing back pain.  This week let’s focus more on how back pain is diagnosed and treated as well as what you can do to help prevent it from happening to you.

If you have back pain, what will your doctor do to determine the cause?

Back PainYour doctor will likely do the following:

  • Ask a lot of questions about the pain that you are having, such as the location, if it radiates to other places, if it is associated with weakness or numbness, and other associated symptoms.

  • Examine your back, do a good neurologic exam, including checking your reflexes, and assess your ability to sit, stand, walk, lift your legs, etc.

Depending on what your doctor finds on the history and exam, you might need other tests, such as:

  • X-ray – Can show spine alignment, whether you have arthritis, or broken bones in the spine.

  • MRI or CT scan – Can show bones as well as soft tissues, such as herniated discs, tendons, and nerves.

  • Blood tests – Can show signs of infection or other things that might cause back pain.

  • Nerve tests – An EMG test measures the electrical impulses produced by nerves and how your muscles respond. This can show evidence of pressure on a nerve from a herniated disc.

How is back pain treated?

It may surprise you to know that most back pain gets better within 2-4 weeks with simple home treatment. Here are the recommended home treatments:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers – Such as Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve.

  • Ice packs or heat packs – Used intermittently for short periods of time.

  • Continue your activities as much as you can – Bed rest is NOT recommended. Avoid heavy lifting. Try light activities such as walking. Advance your activities slowly as you tolerate them.

What if this home treatment does not work after a month?

If you are not improving, you should see your doctor for further tests or for additional treatment, which might include:

  • Prescription anti-inflammatory medications

  • Muscle relaxers

  • Physical therapy – Focusing on exercises that improve flexibility and strength in your back and abdominal muscles as well as improving posture and lifting techniques.

  • Antidepressant medications – Some antidepressant medications improve pain, even in patients who do not have depression.

If you continue to have pain, you may be referred to a spine surgeon or pain management doctor for further testing or treatment.

Can you prevent back pain from developing?

You are likely to avoid initial development of back pain or prevent recurrence of back pain by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics. Here are the things that you can do to keep your back healthy and strong:

  • Aerobic exercise – Do low-impact aerobic exercise regularly, such as walking or swimming, which can increase your strength and endurance.

  • Core exercises – Exercise that strengthens your core (abdominal and back muscles) is very protective of your back. A strong core acts like a natural back brace or corset.

  • Flexibility exercises – Stretches and other exercises to promote flexibility help protect your back from injury.

  • Quit smoking – Back pain is one of many reasons that you should quit smoking!

  • Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight puts a strain on the muscles of your back. If you are overweight, losing weight can prevent or improve back pain.

  • Maintain good posture – Good posture reduces the stress on back muscles. This is important when standing or sitting. Don’t slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvis. Choose a chair with good lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Change positions frequently, about every 30 minutes.

  • Use good lifting techniques – When possible, avoid heavy lifting, especially if you are not used to heavy lifting. Use your leg muscles to do most of the work when lifting. Keep your back straight while lifting, no twisting. Hold the weight close to your body. Share the lifting with another person whenever possible.

Here is a link to some back exercises that you can do to help keep your back healthy and strong:

Slide show: Back exercises in 15 minutes a day – Mayo Clinic

If you have any questions about back pain, please log into your account and send
us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD – Health Tip Content Editor

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