If you've ever groaned, "Oh, my aching back!", you are not alone. Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain.
Acute back pain comes on suddenly and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Back pain is called chronic if it lasts for more than three months.
Most back pain goes away on its own, though it may take awhile. Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and resting can help. However, staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can make it worse.
If your back pain is severe or doesn't improve after three days, you should call your health care provider. You should also get medical attention if you have back pain following an injury.
Treatment for back pain depends on what kind of pain you have, and what is causing it. It may include hot or cold packs, exercise, medicines, injections, complementary treatments, and sometimes surgery.
NIH: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Your back is made of bones, muscles, and other tissues extending from your neck to your pelvis. Back injuries can result from sports injuries, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident. The lower back is the most common site of back injuries and back pain. Common back injuries include
- Sprains and strains
- Herniated disks
- Fractured (broken) vertebrae
These injuries can cause pain and limit your movement. Treatments vary but might include medicines, icing, bed rest, physical therapy, or surgery. You might be able to prevent some back injuries by maintaining a healthy weight, lifting objects with your legs, and using lower-back support when you sit.
Chiropractic is a health care profession. Chiropractors perform adjustments (manipulations) to the spine or other parts of the body. The goal is to correct alignment problems, ease pain, and support the body's natural ability to heal itself. They may also use other treatments including
- Heat and ice
- Electrical stimulation
- Relaxation techniques
- Rehabilitative and general exercise
- Counseling about diet, weight loss, and other lifestyle factors
- Dietary supplements
Many people visit chiropractors for treatment of low back pain, neck pain, and headaches.
NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Non-Drug Pain Management
What is pain?
Pain is a signal in your nervous system that something may be wrong. It is an unpleasant feeling, such as a prick, tingle, sting, burn, or ache. Pain may be sharp or dull. It may come and go, or it may be constant. You may feel pain in one area of your body, such as your back, abdomen, chest, pelvis, or you may feel pain all over.
There are two types of pain:
- Acute pain usually comes on suddenly, because of a disease, injury, or inflammation. It can often be diagnosed and treated. It usually goes away, though sometimes it can turn into chronic pain.
- Chronic pain lasts for a long time, and can cause severe problems
What are pain
Pain relievers are medicines that reduce or relieve pain. There are many different pain medicines, and each one has advantages and risks. Some are over-the-counter (OTC) medicines. Others are stronger medicines, which are available by prescription. The most powerful prescription pain relievers are opioids. They are very effective, but people who take them are at risk of addiction and overdose.
Because of the side effects and risks of pain relievers, you may want to try non-drug treatments first. And if you do need to take medicines, also doing some non-drug treatments may allow you to take a lower dose.
What are some non-drug treatments for pain
There are many non-drug treatments that can help with pain. It is important to check with your health care provider before trying any of them:
- Acupuncture involves stimulating acupuncture points. These are specific points on your body. There are different acupuncture methods. The most common one involves inserting thin needles through the skin. Others include using pressure, electrical stimulation, and heat. Acupuncture is based on the belief that qi (vital energy) flows through the body along paths, called meridians. Practitioners believe that stimulating the acupuncture points can rebalance the qi. Research suggests that acupuncture can help manage certain pain conditions.
- Biofeedback techniques use electronic devices to measure body functions such as breathing and heart rate. This teaches you to be more aware of your body functions so you can learn to control them. For example, a biofeedback device may show you measurements of your muscle tension. By watching how these measurements change, you can become more aware of when your muscles are tense and learn to relax them. Biofeedback may help to control pain, including chronic headaches and back pain.
- Electrical stimulation involves using a device to send a gentle electric current to your nerves or muscles. This can help treat pain by interrupting or blocking the pain signals. Types include
- Transcutaneous electrical stimulation (TENS)
- Implanted electric nerve stimulation
- Deep brain or spinal cord stimulation
- Massage therapy is a treatment in which the soft tissues of the body are kneaded, rubbed, tapped, and stroked. Among other benefits, it may help people relax, and relieve stress and pain.
- Meditation is a mind-body practice in which you focus your attention on something, such as an object, word, phrase, or breathing. This helps you to minimize distracting or stressful thoughts or feelings.
- Physical therapy uses techniques such as heat, cold, exercise, massage, and manipulation. It can help to control pain, as well as condition muscles and restore strength.
- Psychotherapy (talk therapy) uses methods such as discussion, listening, and counseling to treat mental and behavioral disorders. It can also help people who have pain, especially chronic pain, by
- Teaching them coping skills, to be able to better deal with the stress that pain can cause
- Addressing negative thoughts and emotions that can make pain worse
- Providing them with support
- Relaxation therapy can help reduce muscle tension and stress, lower blood pressure, and control pain. It may involve tensing and relaxing muscles throughout the body. It may be used with guided imagery (focusing the mind on positive images) and meditation.
- Surgery can sometimes be necessary to treat severe pain, especially when it is caused by back problems or serious musculoskeletal injuries. There are always risks to getting surgery, and it does not always work to treat pain. So it is important to go through all of the risks and benefits with your health care provider.
Guide to Good Posture
Good posture is about more than standing up straight so you can look your best. It is an important part of your long-term health. Making sure that you hold your body the right way, whether you are moving or still, can prevent pain, injuries, and other health problems.
What is posture?
Posture is how you hold your body. There are two types:
- Dynamic posture is how you hold yourself when you are moving, like when you are walking, running, or bending over to pick up something.
- Static posture is how you hold yourself when you are not moving, like when you are sitting, standing, or sleeping.
It is important to make sure that you have good dynamic and static posture.
The key to good posture is the position of your spine. Your spine has three natural curves - at your neck, mid back, and low back. Correct posture should maintain these curves, but not increase them. Your head should be above your shoulders, and the top of your shoulder should be over the hips.
How can posture affect my health?
Poor posture can be bad for your health. Slouching or slumping over can
- Misalign your musculoskeletal system
- Wear away at your spine, making it more fragile and prone to injury
- Cause neck, shoulder, and back pain
- Decrease your flexibility
- Affect how well your joints move
- Affect your balance and increase your risk of falling
- Make it harder to digest your food
- Make it harder to breathe
How can I improve my posture in general?
- Be mindful of your posture during everyday activities, like watching television, washing dishes, or walking
- Stay active. Any kind of exercise may help improve your posture, but certain types of exercises can be especially helpful. They include yoga, tai chi, and other classes that focuses on body awareness. It is also a good idea to do exercises that strengthen your core (muscles around your back, abdomen, and pelvis).
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight can weaken your abdominal muscles, cause problems for your pelvis and spine, and contribute to low back pain. All of these can hurt your posture.
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes. High heels, for example, can throw off your balance and force you to walk differently. This puts more stress on your muscles and harms your posture.
- Make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height for you, whether you're sitting in front of a computer, making dinner, or eating a meal.
How can I improve my posture when sitting?
Many Americans spend a lot of their time sitting - either at work, at school, or at home. It is important to sit properly, and to take frequent breaks:
- Switch sitting positions often
- Take brief walks around your office or home
- Gently stretch your muscles every so often to help relieve muscle tension
- Don't cross your legs; keep your feet on the floor, with your ankles in front of your knees
- Make sure that your feet touch the floor, or if that's not possible, use a footrest
- Relax your shoulders; they should not be rounded or pulled backwards
- Keep your elbows in close to your body. They should be bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
- Make sure that your back is fully supported. Use a back pillow or other back support if your chair does not have a backrest that can support your lower back's curve.
- Make sure that your thighs and hips are supported. You should have a well-padded seat, and your thighs and hips should be parallel to the floor.
How can I improve my posture when standing?
- Stand up straight and tall
- Keep your shoulders back
- Pull your stomach in
- Put your weight mostly on the balls of your feet
- Keep your head level
- Let your arms hang down naturally at your sides
- Keep your feet about shoulder-width apart
With practice, you can improve your posture; you will look and feel better.