If you have back pain, well, for what it is worth you are NOT alone. About 1 in 10 people have back pain or have had it sometime in thepast. Not that this brings you comfort for your own but here are some commonly asked questions about back pain that I can answer for you:
- Is my back pain caused by something really bad?
- As clinicians, most would approach your diagnosis or plan for treatment with your symptoms to answer this question. If your symptoms are “local” or staying around the same place, likely not. If your symptoms “travel” down your leg for example, there is a possibility that either the nerve root or the disc or both may be to blame. If your back pain is caused by a traumatic accident of some kind, ruling out any fractures or other internal injury may be necessary. Other than that, It is impossible without knowing each patient’s individual medical history to answer this question without more information. Rest assured, that most of the time it is not insidious.
- Can I make my back get worse?
- Simply, yes, if you choose to completely ignore it there is a distinct possibility it could get worse. Most cases of what I call “simple” back pain, mechanical or strain related, resolve themselves within 2-3 weeks without any treatment whatsoever. In cases where there may be muscle tears, disc involvement, arthritis flare up, to name a few, it may take longer for the pain to subside. Good posture and lifting techniques, abdominal strengthening, and increasing flexibility can all help you to NOT get worse.
- Will medicine help?
- Yes, it can. However, with opiate addiction as high as it currently is, I would caution any patient to approach pain management carefully considering all of the options. Long term use of most medications comes with a cost to you physiologically. Your doctor will help direct you to the most appropriate medication knowing your full medical history and other medications that you currently take. BUT, if you hurt yourself the first thing you should do is put ICE on the area. Why? Because ice not only decreases pain, it reduces swelling which is the number one reason for pain initially, and decreases muscle spasm. Caution: You can give yourself an “ice burn” so make sure you put something between you and the ice and do not apply to areas of your body that are numb.
- Is there anything I can do to help prevent back pain?
- YES!!!! A basic understanding of your own posture is essential. If you have back pain or have had it in the past, your physical therapist likely told you about what your posture indicates. Posture is as much bad habit as it is biomechanics. Thus, increasing your awareness of it and the weak areas that you have is an important part of future prevention.
- What kinds of accommodations should I make for home, work, etc?
- Think of your back pain like ANY other injury. The first 24-72 hours may feel like the worst due to swelling, muscle spasm and the pain as a result of it. After that the greatest part of it is that our bodies begin the healing process right away. Thus, when making any changes to your lifestyle when you start having pain, be sensible, don’t go to Kennywood, don’t go for a long car ride, don’t move your friend’s couch; keep moving, take it a little easy, ice it and see what you can and cannot do.
Pain, regardless of body part is so individual that you have to make sure you listen to your body first and foremost. In the state of Pennsylvania, physical therapists have the ability to obtain a Direct Access license, meaning you can go and see one without any “script” or referral from your doctor. The plus is that you will get in FASTER and know SOONER how to take care of yourself. The unknown is the scariest part of injury. The sooner you can be treated by someone who knows what to do with back pain, the sooner YOU will be back to the regular YOU.
Here is a link to my shortened article for our local paper: