My husband injured his back earlier this week. He said he turned slightly, twisting at his waist and he felt something “pop.” I hate seeing him in pain and it has caused more work for me and guilt for him. This is a very common occurrence for people all over the world and can cause a great deal of pain as well as other problems. The pain, medical costs, loss of work, and loss of recreation can seriously impact both the sufferer and the families of those who have back pain. So what can you do for back pain?
About 60 to 80% of the adult U.S. population has low back pain. It is the second most common reason people go to the doctor. Back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under the age of 45. Chronic back pain leaves about 2.4 million Americans chronically disabled and another 2.4 million temporarily disabled.
The more obvious signs of back trouble are tenderness, pain, and stiffness in the back. Pain can also spread to the buttocks or legs. Difficulty standing up or standing in one position as well as discomfort while sitting are common. Weakness and tired legs while walking are also common though less likely to be recognized by a patient as a back problem.
Some people cannot point to a specific incident that caused their back pain. Sometimes it’s cause by straining to lift something, an injury, twisting or bending. It can also be caused by more serious conditions like infection, rheumatoid arthritis or even a tumor. Ruptured and bulging disks are also responsible for many of the back pain complaints doctors hear. In addition, compression fractures of the vertebrae, caused by osteoporosis can cause pain.
If you suspect your back pain is caused by more than just a strain or overuse, seek medical treatment as soon as possible. Your doctor can determine if simple treatments like OTC pain relievers and rest are sufficient or if tests are needed to determine the cause and treatment methods. Back pain often improves with home care.
Rest is important but lying in bed for several days can actually increase the pain. Be sure to get up every few hours to move around a bit. Don’t do anything strenuous but gentle stretching may help.
NSAIDs can help with the pain. Try taking ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen unless you have been told by your doctor to avoid these types of medication. Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant, steroids, or an opiate to treat the symptoms.
Moist heat from a bath or a heating pad made for use with a moist cloth can also help. Even applying washcloths moistened with very warm water can sooth the pain a bit. Dry heat can often aggravate the pain so avoid using a heating pad without moisture.
Nutritional supplements can help fight inflammation which causes pain. Try Omega-3 fatty acids such as fish oil and flaxseed. These can also increase the risk of bleeding and interfere with blood-thinning medications so be sure to talk to your doctor before taking them. Bromelain, the enzyme that comes from pineapples reduces inflammation. If you have a peptic ulcer or take anti-coagulants you should not take bromelain because of the increased risk of bleeding. Bromelain also may interact with some antibiotics so check with your doctor before taking any form of bromelain.
Herbs are usually available as standardized, dried extracts in pill, capsule, or tablets. Teas, tinctures, and liquid extracts are also widely available. Turmeric is one herb that is available in a pill form but it can increase the risk of bleeding especially in people taking blood-thinners. Consult your doctor before taking turmeric. Devil’s claw is available as a standardized extract. Devil’s claw has been used traditionally to relieve pain. One study found that more than 50% of people with osteoarthritis of the knee or hip, or low back pain, who took devil’s claw reported less pain and better mobility after 8 weeks. Devil’s claw may increase the risk of bleeding and interact with diabetes medications, as well as potentially several types of medications. Talk to your doctor before taking it if you also take blood-thinning medication, or if you have diabetes. Devil’s claw can affect the heart, and may not be right for people with certain heart problems. It can also potentially be problematic for people with gallstones. Willow bark standardized extract acts in a similar way to aspirin. Do not take white willow if you are also taking aspirin or blood-thinning medications. Check with your provider if you are allergic to aspirin or salicylates before taking white willow. Do not give Willow to children under the age of 18. Capsaicin cream, applied to the skin (topically). Capsaicin is the main component in hot chili peppers (also known as cayenne). Applied to the skin, it may temporarily reduce amounts of “Substance P,” a chemical that contributes to inflammation and pain. One found a topical capsaicin cream relieved pain better than placebo in 320 people with low back pain. Pain reduction generally starts 3 to 7 days after applying the capsaicin cream to the skin. Do not use internally.
Contrast Hydrotherapy means alternating cold and hot. Apply heat for 3 minutes then cold for 1 minute. Repeat three times to complete a set and do 2 – 3 sets per day.
Castor Oil Packs are applied directly to the skin, covered with a clean, soft cloth, and wrapped in plastic. A heat source, such as a heating pad, is then placed over the pack and allowed to sit for 30 – 60 minutes. The procedure is repeated for three consecutive days.
Acupuncture may be effective for low back pain, research has shown. The National Institutes of Health recommend acupuncture as a reasonable treatment option. An acupuncturist may use a comprehensive approach, including specialized massage, warming herbal oils, and patient education. A study of 1,162 people with a history of chronic low back pain found that at 6 months of acupuncture treatments relieved low back pain, almost twice as much as from conventional therapy. Patients had 10, 30-minute acupuncture sessions, generally 2 sessions per week.
Chiropractic was determined by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to be, along with NSAIDs, one of the two most effective treatments for acute low back pain. Spinal manipulation relieves pain and restores function. Spinal manipulation also appears to be effective for chronic low back pain, but the evidence is less conclusive. Some studies even suggest that spinal manipulation is no more effective than other recommended therapies.
Massage may help alleviate the pain and even prevent back problems.
Yoga and Tai Chi may significantly improve back pain. In one study of 300 people with low back pain, those who participated in a 12-week yoga program experienced greater improvements in back function than did usual care.