Back pain is among the most common reasons people miss work or visit doctor, and it is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. Most people experience back pain at least once in life time. In Myanmar, low back pain is among the top five causes of Years Lived With Disability.
Fortunately, back pain is a condition that can be easily addressed. You can take some simple measures to both prevent and relieve back pain. In case prevention does not work, simple home remedies and proper body mechanics can relieve back pain within a few weeks. In severe cases, surgery may be required.
- Muscle ache
- Stabbing or shooting pain
- Limited range of motion or flexibility of the back
- Pain that radiates down the leg
When to see a doctor
Usually, back pain gradually improves within a couple of weeks with self-care and home treatment. If it does not improve, you should see a doctor. In some rare cases, back pain could be a sign of a serious underlying condition. You should see a doctor for back pain if:
- It causes new bladder or bowel problems
- Follows a fall, trauma to the back or other injury
- Is accompanied by fever
- It is severe and does not improve with rest
- It causes weakness, tingling or numbness in legs
- It spreads down the legs
- Is accompanied by sudden and unexplained weight loss
- You should also see a doctor if you start experiencing new back pain after the age of 50, or if you have history of steroid use, cancer, osteoporosis or alcohol or drug abuse.
Most cases of acute pain improve with a few weeks of rest and home treatment. Use of heat or ice and over the counter pain medications also work well for most cases of acute back pain.
The doctors often advise that the patient should continue routine activities without straining themselves. If home treatment does not work, the doctors may prescribe stronger pain medications or other treatments.
Depending on the type of back pain the person has, the doctor may recommend Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If OTC pain relievers do not work, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants and other stronger medication.
Doctors may also prescribe topical pain relievers such as ointments, salves or creams that the patient can rub into the skin at the site of pain. In some cases mild doses of anti-depressants may also be used to relieve chronic back pain. If none of the measures work and the pain is severe and radiates down the leg, the doctor may inject cortisone, which is an anti-inflammation medication that relieves pain for up to a few months.
Physical therapy and exercise is also commonly used to treat back pain. Muscle release techniques, ultrasound, heat, and other techniques are used on the back muscles to reduce pain.
If the pain is severe and radiates down the leg, and the patient experiences progressive muscle weakness caused by nerve compression, doctors may recommend surgery. However, surgery is required only in cases of pain related to structural problems such as a herniated disc.
The prognosis for people with back pain depends on the underlying cause. Most people experience one episode of back pain that is not accompanied with any other complications and the symptoms go away within a month. However, in half of the cases, back pain may return. An active lifestyle and regular exercise can be of great help.
Prevention of Back pain
It is possible to avoid back pain and prevent its recurrence by improving physical condition and practicing proper body mechanics. Regular light, aerobic activities that do not strain the back can help build strength and endurance and allow muscles to function better. Core strengthening exercises also help condition muscles. Maintaining a healthy weight can also go a long way in preventing back pain. Proper body mechanics that include sitting, standing and lifting smartly, without straining the back can help prevent back pain.