Back Pain 101

Back pain is no laughing matter. In fact, an estimated 80% of Americans will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime. Because back and neck pain are such common complaints, we wanted to answer some of your most frequently asked questions.

What causes back pain?

Back pain often develops without a specific cause. Conditions commonly linked to back pain are muscle or ligament strain, bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, skeletal irregularities, and osteoporosis.

How long will an episode of back pain typically last?

There are two general categories of pain – acute and chronic. Acute pain refers to an episode of pain that comes on suddenly. Most people will recover within two weeks with minimal treatment. Chronic pain may last for months at a time and may be the result of a more long-term spinal condition or other related factors such as muscle weakness, body weight, or stress.

How is back pain treated?

Most back pain can be successfully treated non-surgically. Conservative treatment includes activity (standing, walking, working) as tolerated, non-aspirin over-the-counter pain reliever and/or anti-inflammatory medication, and cold packs to diminish swelling and pain.

Will exercise help prevent and alleviate back pain?

Exercise is one of the most important treatments to reduce back pain. Regular core strengthening, stretching, and aerobic exercise will improve your overall fitness and reduce the further likelihood of back injury. Your exercise program should be individualized, so consult with your physician or physical therapist before starting.

Should I ice or heat a sore low back?

This question is one of the most commonly asked about back pain treatment. Both ice and heat can help in alleviating pain, though they rarely provide long-term benefits.

Does my weight affect back pain?

Body Weight, whether too high or low, is an important component to maintaining a healthy back. Excess weight, especially in the mid-section or stomach, puts extra strain on your back muscles and surrounding tissues. It is also possible to be too thin, putting you at risk for osteoporosis. We recommend keeping within 10 pounds of your ideal body weight.

When should I call my health care provider?

See your health care provider if you have a fever, if the pain worsens, if the pain progressively moves from your back into your leg(s), or if your pain is unrelieved at rest or disturbs sleep. These are warning signs or “red flags” that require prompt, urgent medical attention.

Source: North American Spine Society