What is Chronic Back Pain?
Chronic, or ongoing, back pain, is a common complaint among adults. It occurs when nerves continue to signal pain, even after the cause of pain—such as an injury or illness—has been resolved.
Research continues to reveal important information about how chronic pain works, how to treat it, and how to help people manage it. While it’s not common for pain to disappear entirely, it can be reduced so it has less impact on your life. Just as important, management strategies can help you function better despite a certain level of pain that may remain.
What can I temporarily do to ease my chronic back pain?
Try these suggestions to temporarily reduce your back pain, keeping in mind these are not long term solutions:
- Keep moving
- Find a comfortable position
- Apply heat or cold
- Anti-inflammatories or acetaminophen
Long-term back pain management
Pain management for chronic back pain aims to reduce your level of back pain and minimize its effect on your life, so you can do more of the things that make life meaningful and enjoyable. To develop a pain management plan, follow these steps:
- Assess the situation with your doctor
- Work with your doctor to make a plan based on your pain goals
- Follow up with your doctor
- Find effective self-help activities
- Be patient as you try different approaches
Treatments you can try yourself
One of the most important things you can do is to keep moving and continue with your normal activities as much as possible.
It used to be thought that bed rest would help you recover from a bad back, but it’s now known that people who remain active are likely to recover quicker.
This may be difficult at first, but do not be discouraged – your pain should start to improve eventually. Consider taking painkillers if the pain is stopping you from carrying on as normal.
There’s no need to wait until you’re completely pain-free before returning to work. Going back to work will help you return to a normal pattern of activity and may distract you from the pain.
Hot and cold packs
Some people find that heat (such as a hot bath or a hot water bottle placed on the affected area) helps to ease the pain when back pain first starts.
Cold (such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables) on the painful area can also help in the short erm. However, do not put ice directly on your skin, as it might cause a cold burn. Wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a cloth or towel first.
Another option is to alternate between hot and cold using ice packs and a hot water bottle. Hot and cold compression packs can be bought at most pharmacies.
Relax and stay positive
Trying to relax is a crucial part of easing the pain as muscle tension caused by worrying about your condition may make things worse.
Although it can be difficult, it helps to stay positive and recognise that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.
Ways to Relieve Back Pain
When you have back pain, sleeping can be hard. It can be a vicious cycle because when you don’t get enough sleep, your back pain may feel worse. A poor sleep position can also aggravate back pain. Try lying on your side. Place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine in a neutral position and relieve strain on your back. If you need to sleep on your back, slide a pillow under your knees. Be sure to sleep on a comfortably firm mattress.
Grandma was right! Slouching is bad for you. And poor posture can make back pain worse, especially if you sit for long periods. Don’t slump over your keyboard. Sit upright, with your shoulders relaxed and your body supported against the back of your chair. Try putting a pillow or a rolled towel between your lower back and your seat. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
Prescription Pain Relievers
Some people may need prescription-strength NSAIDs or opioid medications to help with pain. It is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any other medications — including over-the-counter medicines — to avoid overdosing on certain active ingredients. Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants to help ease painful muscle spasms.
Even if you’re not depressed, your doctor may prescribe antidepressant medications as part of the treatment for chronic low back pain. It’s not clear how antidepressants help relieve chronic pain. It is believed that antidepressants’ influence on chemical messengers may affect pain signals in the body.
Physical therapists can teach you how to sit, stand, and move in a way that keeps your spine in proper alignment and alleviates strain on your back. They also can teach you specialized exercises that strengthen the core muscles that support your back. A strong core is one of the best ways to prevent more back pain in the future. Studies show that when you increase your strength, flexibility, and endurance, back pain decreases — but it takes time.
How Common is Back Pain?
While it is estimated that four out of five people will experience back or lower back pain at some point in their lives, back pain that lasts longer than a few weeks is not normal and it may be necessary to seek advice from lower back pain doctors.
Back Pain Symptoms
Back pain symptoms may include feelings of muscle ache, stabbing or shooting pain, stiff or limited flexibility in the back or lower back, inability to stand with proper posture and radiating pain down one or both legs.
Where is my back pain coming from?
Did you know that muscle-related pain is one of the most common reasons for overall back pain? It’s true. Muscle-related back pain can be caused by improper lifting techniques, overuse, poor posture or a sudden awkward movement or fall.
Bulging or Herniated Discs
Spinal discs are soft cushions between vertebra. Sometimes, the soft jellylike substance inside the disc can bulge out of place or rupture, putting pressure on the surrounding nerves causing back pain. Disc related pain can be caused by an injury. Interestingly, some people who have bulging or herniated discs will never experience any back pain.
Sciatica refers to back pain that stems from the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from the lower back down the back of each leg. Sciatica is not a disorder, but a symptom of another underlying problem, such as a spinal stenosis, a pinched/irritated nerve in the lower back or a herniated disc.
If you have spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, compression fractures, arthritis or osteoporosis you may also experience bone and joint pain in the back. These conditions can be treated with conservative, minimally invasive procedures by our back pain and lower back pain doctors.
Back Pain Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of pain from spinal issues may vary depending on the cause, and could improve within the first 72 hours of conservative treatment. Often back pain goes away on its own within a few weeks. Acute back pain is defined as lasting up to three months, and chronic pain lasts longer than three months. Acute or chronic back pain may exhibit the following symptoms:
- Muscle ache
- Shooting, stabbing or dull pain
- Pain that radiates toward the neck or down the legs
- Decreased range of motion and flexibility
- Pain that reduces with rest or minimal movement
To diagnose the source of your back pain, your doctor will ask you questions about your health and history and do a physical examination. Other tests that can help diagnose the source of your pain include X-rays, MRI scan, CT scan and blood tests. It is important that your issue is properly diagnosed so that you can receive the most effective and appropriate back pain treatment.