Back Pain


Treating Back Pain

When Should You See a Doctor?

A trip to the doctor's office is not usually necessary for most types of acute back pain. A few simple remedies and the pain should go away within a few days or sometimes weeks. But how do you know if you should seek more serious medical treatment?

You should visit your health care provider if your back problems meet any of the following criteria:

  • The back pain is accompanied by numbness or tingling.
  • If your pain is very severe and constant and doesn't improve with treatment.
  • If the pain is constant and intense, especially when lying down at night.
  • If you have pain after a fall, blow or an injury.
  • If your pain is accompanied by trouble urinating or defecating.
  • If there problem seems to spread into one or both your legs, in the form of numbness, tingling or pain.
  • If the back pain is accompanied by abdominal pain or throbbing.
  • If your pain brings on fever and/or unintentional weight loss.
  • If you are over the age of 50.

...And Listen to What the Doctor Says

If your back pain meets any of the conditions described above on “when to see a doctor,” then you should consult your physician about what kind of treatment will be right for you. In serious cases, your doctor can prescribe pain medications and may decide that more serious procedures are necessary. It's usually best to begin with a visit to a general care physician rather than starting with a specialist. If you need more care than a general physician can give, he or she will be best able to direct you to your next step, whether it's a physical therapist, osteopathic physician or orthopedist.

What are some things you can do on your own to treat back pain? Click next to find out.

Do-It-Yourself Back Pain Treatment

Here are some things you can do on your own when back pain strikes:

  • Be patient. They say that time heals all wounds. And time is especially important when it comes to back pain. For most cases of acute back pain, the pain will diminish as the back heals. Self care and over the counter treatments (plus time and patience) are sometimes all you need to treat your back pain.
  • Sleep with pillow support. Use the same tips as above.
  • Stay active with gentle exercise. Conventional wisdom says that bed rest--and lots of it--is what's needed to cure a pain in the back. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, light activity speeds healing and recovery. Of course, don't engage in activities that aggravate your back, but if you can find something that keeps you moving and doesn't cause pain—such as walking or gentle stretching postures—keep them up.
  • Cold, then heat. Sources of heat or cold—compresses, baths, ice packs, water bottles, electric blankets—are helpful in reducing back pain. When you first injure your back or begin to feel pain, start by applying cold treatment as soon as possible. Continue with the cold packs or compresses for two to three days, several times a day for twenty minutes. After two or three days, switch to hot treatment in the form of water bottles, electric blankets, hot baths, etc. Applying heat for twenty minutes several times a day will help loosen tense muscles and ease pain.
  • Take two aspirin. Over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can help reduce the pain and also reduce the swelling associated with damage to the muscles in the back.
  • Support products. The jury is still out on those back supports and braces you often see people using for heavy lifting. Some experts argue they help give crucial stability to the back during heavy and frequent lifting: others argue that they cause back and core muscles to weaken over time. In the end, your best bet may to make your own “support belt” comprised of your own abdominal and back muscles, built up through regular exercise.

To read about complementary and alternative therapies for back pain, go on to the next page.

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