Oh, My Aching Back
Oh, My Aching BackPain: No one wants it, but what’s a body to do? By Joyce Owen
You aren’t alone if you suffer from back pain. At least 50 percent of Americans will have lower back pain at some point in their life.
According to Dr. Chris Patel, a pain management specialist at White-Wilson Medical Center, P.A., back pain is the most frequent patient complaint at the center.
Doctors typically begin pain management by limiting activity and by prescribing physical therapy, muscle relaxants and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help get pain and inflammation under control.
However, additional treatment depends on the underlying cause of the pain.
Acute pain is often caused by trauma and can be treated, while chronic pain can take longer to diagnose and treat. And generally, the patient population for the latter tends to be older.
“But that has to do with the slow progression of some diseases, such as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease,” Patel says, “as well as the fact that for acute issues, younger people are more likely to avoid going to see the doctor, if they have one.”
This can be detrimental overall, as a number of conditions could be resolved, or at least slowed, if treated within the first six months.
Dr. Marinella Monk, a pain management specialist at Emerald Coast Rehabilitation in Destin, specializes in physical medicine and rehabilitation. She first seeks the gentle approach to pain management.
“If there is no emergency, I am very conservative,” she says. “We look at the patient as an individual and tailor a rehabilitation specific to their lifestyle, age and medical problems (so that) they can be treated appropriately without the pain getting to the point that you have to do surgery.”
When moderate remedies don’t do the trick, a more aggressive approach may be in order. With a more profound problem, like a ruptured disc or trauma, a different level of treatment, such as muscle or joint injections, could be necessary.
Monk notes that only some of her patients respond to in-depth treatments. She is concerned with the success rate of aggressive treatments that show a decreased effectiveness when used over a long period of time, as well as possible addiction to pain medicines.
“A treatment such as spinal cord stimulation might work for a year or so,” Monk says. “But it’s a costly surgical procedure and doesn’t work for the long term. We also have to be very careful about addictions, to help (the patients) not go down the wrong path.”
Although their jobs are to treat pain, Patel and Monk offer their patients measures that may prevent problems in the first place. Weight loss — even a mere 10 pounds — can make a world of difference for the spine in terms of stress reduction on the joints, discs and other support structures. And specific strengthening exercises for the abdominal and lumbar (lower back) regions can help support and relieve stress in the spine itself.
“As I tell our patients, my field is called pain management for a reason,” Patel says. “There isn’t always a ‘cure’ for their condition, but there may be a way to reduce or make it more manageable to a point where they can control it instead of the pain controlling their lives.”
3 simple stretches to reduce back pain
Shortened muscles can throw the spine out of alignment and cause back pain. These stretches lengthen shortened muscles and bring relief.
Always warm up before stretching exercises with five minutes of walking, exercise bike, elliptical trainer, or even marching on the spot. Check with your physician before doing exercises that involve twisting or arching the back if you have a back condition.
(lower-back stretch; also strengthens abs)
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Tighten your buttocks and abdomen, flattening the small of the back against the floor. Hold for a count of five. Slowly relax. Repeat five to 15 times.
Knee to Chest
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Grasp your left leg behind the knee/back of thigh and pull the knee toward your left shoulder. Hold for a count of five. Switch sides. Repeat five times.
(stretches muscles that lie beneath gluteal muscles)
Sit on a chair. Place your left ankle over your right leg, just above the knee, and lean forward. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.