Back pain can be debilitating and can leave you struggling to perform even the simplest everyday activities. Back pain symptoms can range from an all-over dull ache to a sharp, stabbing pain in one specific area. The pain could be persistent or it may flare up when you perform an action such as bending, twisting, or reaching out for something.
The causes of back pain can be as varied as the symptoms themselves. Acute back pain can appear suddenly after an injury and is usually felt as a sharp stabbing pain. When the pain lasts more than 3 months, it is considered to be chronic.
Common Causes Of Back Pain
- Lifting excessive weight without proper lumbar support;
- Overextending the back;
- Twisting the trunk or bending the trunk forward;
- Sedentary jobs that require sitting for prolonged periods of time;
- Poor posture;
- Performing highly physical jobs for extended periods of time without a break;
- Using the wrong techniques when performing manual tasks;
- Exposure to whole-body vibration;
- Lack of movement;
- Slips, trips, and falls;
- Doing strenuous work while fatigued;
Regardless of the exact cause, back pain rarely eases off without any treatment. You will need to see a doctor to get an accurate diagnosis and to determine what course of action to take. However, there are a few simple things that you can do at home to treat back pain and prevent back pain in the first place.
Treating Your Back Pain At Home
Depending on who you talk to there can be various different treatments you can try to treat back pain. Some popular courses of action include:
Ice the injury. Icing the area is the first course of action if the injury was caused by direct impact or blunt force. Apply an ice pack or frozen peas wrapped in a cloth (do NOT place frozen items directly on the skin) to the affected area. This should be done within the first 24 to 48 hours after the injury. Ice the area 3 to 4 times a day for 20 minutes at a time for the first 2 to 3 days. This will reduce the inflammation in the area, while also easing the pain and speeding up your recovery time.
Apply heat after 48 hours. Never apply heat over the area for the first 48 hours, no matter how tempted you feel. The warmth may feel soothing as it relaxes the muscles and reduces the pain but it can also exacerbate the inflammatory process and slows down the healing process. You can use a heat pack if you want after 48 hours, and only for 20 minutes at a time. Another great way to get back pain relief is to sit in a tub of warm water for 20 minutes.
Consider over-the-counter painkillers. If the pain is unbearable and making it difficult for you to sleep or get any work done, taking an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen can help, although if you’re unsure of its suitability check the instructions or ask the pharmacist first. Use painkillers only as a short-term measure. It can be dangerous to continue taking painkillers indefinitely without a doctor’s prescription. If the pain persists, consult a doctor. Your doctor will likely prescribe a painkiller that doesn’t conflict with any existing health conditions or any medication that you may be taking at the time.
Stay active. This may seem counter-intuitive. When you have a backache, all you want to do is lie down and rest your back. However, this can stiffen your back and make it even more difficult for you to get out of bed. This does not mean you should go about your day as if you are all okay. Let your back get the rest it needs the first couple of days. Then slowly start returning to your activities. Start small. Think baby steps.
Medical Treatment For Back Pain
A visit to a doctor is always important because there may be other complications that can only be identified by performing various diagnostic tests. The tests the doctor may ask you to do will depend on the cause, exact location and severity of your back pain, as well as your age and current health.
Some of the more common diagnostic tests for back pain include X-rays, CT Scans, MRIs, Bone Scans and Myelograms. Your doctor will decide on a treatment strategy depending on the results of these tests.
For more intense pain, your doctor may administer one or more steroid injections. This helps to reduce pain and promote healing so that you can progress into physiotherapy more easily.
Physiotherapy typically involves stretching, strengthening and low-impact exercises. All of these work to relieve pain, keep your back strong and prevent the injury from recurring.
Surgery is generally the last resort for treating back pain. A doctor will only choose this path after exploring all other non-invasive options. Certain injuries, such as a shifted or collapsed vertebra that is pinching a nerve, may call for surgical intervention.
Back Pain Prevention Is Better Than Cure
Making a few lifestyle changes and taking a few precautions at home and at the workplace are key to preventing back pain. Here are some things you can do:
Watch Your Posture
Slouching prevents your spine from maintaining its optimal alignment, making it harder to support your body’s weight.
Stretch Your Muscles
Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles eventually stiffen the back muscles. We need to focus on keeping those muscles flexible in order to achieve the full range of motion that our muscles are capable of. One way to do this is by doing light stretches. Yoga is a great way to stretch your back muscles, increase your flexibility, and reduce the risk of back pain.
Smoking cigarettes is tied to an increased risk in osteoporosis which literally translates to porous bones. As the bones in your spine become increasingly more porous, they will become more susceptible to back pain and fractures in the spinal column. This results in more than just back pain. A fractured spine can leave you temporarily or permanently immobilised.
Design An Ergonomic Workspace
The ideal ergonomically designed workspace for you will depend on the kind of job you perform at work. Things like the right height of the desk and chair, the right position of keyboards, and the correct design of mouse are all important aspects when you spend all day at work at your computer.
If you do more manual labour, you must keep in mind proper lifting techniques and make sure you always wear the appropriate personal protective gear designed to reduce the risk of injuries.
Regardless of the cause or severity, back pain is not something you should ignore. Make an appointment with your doctor at the earliest for the correct diagnosis and treatment. The earlier you treat your back pain the better the prognosis.