If you have ever woken up with back pain for no apparent reason or tweaked your back after a long day of working, you would know how unexpectedly debilitating even a short-term backache can be.
Many people suffer from some type of back pain at some point in their lives. But no matter when it appears or what may have caused it, back pain can be a real pain to deal with.
Sometimes figuring out the cause of your back pain is obvious: After 12 hours of packing and moving heavy boxes from one house to another, your back is likely to throb. But sometimes, especially when back pain is chronic, discovering the cause of your back pain can be more serious.
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Dr. Ben Onuorah said that your spine is a column of bones held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. A problem in any part of the spine can cause back pain. Some back pains might be mild and just create an annoyance, but others can cause excruciating pain.
“Usually, patients notice back pain after overexertion, heavy or improper lifting, sudden movements, or falling. Back pain can also be caused by more subtle triggers, like getting your period or your sleeping position, said Onuorah.”
Types of back pain
Bulging or slipped disc: One of the soft discs between the vertebrae extends out over the edge.
Pinched nerve: The nerve is pressed right up against the bone.
Arthritis: The discs in your spine have lost their ability to absorb shock, so the bones rub together and create bone spurs.
Osteoporosis: Brittle, weak bones may break or collapse and create compression fractures.
Referred pain: Intense pain in another part of the body creates pain in the low back or groin. This is a common symptom of kidney stones.
Sciatica: The sciatic nerve which starts in the lower back and runs down the back of each leg becomes pinched and creates lower back pain and a sharp pain in one or both legs, especially when sitting.
Pregnancy: This one is a little self-explanatory: Carrying all that extra weight in the front can put a lot of strain on the back.
Fibromyalgia: This chronic pain condition creates discomfort not only in the back but all throughout the body.
Cancer: Patients may experience back pain if they have cancer of the spine or in nearby organs.
According to Dr. Ben Onuorah, there are several simple things you can do to ease pain and keep your back in good condition. The following tips can help you get on the way toward feeling better.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep disturbances are common among people with chronic back pain, and not getting enough quality sleep may actually worsen inflammation and pain.
For a better night’s sleep, Onuorah advises people to invest in a good mattress and experiment with different sleeping positions. Adding an extra pillow under your body can help maintain the natural curve in your spine.
“If you are a back sleeper, try putting the pillow under both knees; for stomach sleepers, try under your pelvis. If you sleep on your side, sleeping with a pillow between the knees may help.”
According to Onuorah, when you have back pain, the best thing to do is rest until the pain subsides, right? Not necessarily. Too much rest can worsen certain types of back pain and decrease muscle strength and strengthening and stretching the muscles may actually reduce or eliminate many types of back pain.
Onuorah said: “Instead, start with gentle stretches and experiment to see how you can get moving without pain. Try going out for a slow, easy walk, and pick up the pace when you can.”
He advised that it is best to discuss your current fitness routines and any changes to it with your doctor to avoid aggravating your condition.
Maintain healthy weight
“Having excess weight pulling on your back all day except when you are lying down is just bad news for your back,” says Onuorah. Often times, when people who wrestle with back pain for a lifetime lose weight, they find that the pain that they have taken countless medications for just goes away.”
If you are having trouble shedding extra weight that is affecting your back, consider consulting a registered dietitian.
Patients with severe back pain should also consider going for some form of body work. This is very important whether it is chiropractic, physical therapy or some form of body therapy.
Yoga can be very therapeutic for people with back pain. A review of scientific studies published in 2013 in the Clinical Journal of Pain found strong evidence that yoga can help reduce chronic low back pain.
Yoga may help improve back pain by loosening tight muscles, building strength and range of motion, and improving breathing. It also focuses on relaxation, which may help to relax your muscles as well as reduce pain perception.
Take some painkillers
For short-term pain relief, over-the-counter pain relievers including acetaminophen are sometimes suggested. For people who are battling back pain, aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can come in handy. Potential side effects of some of these pain killers include stomach and liver problems, so they should be taken with caution advised Onuorah.
If you don’t find relief after taking the recommended dose of your pain killers, inform your doctor and strictly stick to his advice on how to feel better.
Supplements and herbal therapies
If you are looking for natural ways to manage your back pain, you might consider supplements or herbal therapies.
Calcium and magnesium
When taken together, these supplements may help reduce muscle spasms. In fact, a study published in March 2013 in Anaesthesia found that magnesium therapy helped to reduce pain intensity and improve lumbar spine mobility in patients with chronic low back pain.
When back spasms are so strong you can barely move from the bed, Onuorah suggests herbal therapies. They might help to reduce chronic low back pain from arthritis when combined with physical therapy.
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One potential concern with dietary supplements is that some may interfere with medications you have been prescribed to treat back pain or other health conditions.
For this reason, Onuorah suggests topical treatments: “Gels and creams can be very helpful and won’t interfere with supplements or medications,” he explains. “They are generally not expensive too.”
When considering supplements and herbal therapies, always talk to your doctor first about potential risks and side effects, interactions with other medications, and which therapies may benefit you.
Heat and cold
“I always tell my patients to experiment with hot and cold packs to see which feels better for them,” says Onuorah. Generally speaking, cold therapy applied (via an ice pack) works better for inflammation and helps to reduce swelling, while heat (via a hot water bottle or heating pad) is ideal for reducing tension, cramping, and muscle spasms.