Treatment of Low Back Pain
Did you know…one out of every five American is suffering from back pain RIGHT NOW and the numbers are growing!
Timothy Carey, M.D., director of the Sheps Center for Health Services Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill believes the main reasons back pain is growing in America are the rising rates of obesity and stress. Accidents, whether automobile collisions or falls, also contribute to the cause of low back pain.
Low back pain should really be called spine pain because that’s where it originates. The adult spine consists of 26 bones, called vertebrae. Picture a stack of pancakes, with butter between each pair, all loosely held together by maple syrup. The pancakes are the vertebrae, the butter pats are the water-absorbent discs between the bones, and the syrup is an intertwining collection of ligaments, joints, and muscles, all tangled with the cables carrying nervous system signals, including pain. Over time, your discs, the shock absorbers for your body weight, wear out. As you age, your bones become weaker, and you may develop osteoporosis (which can lead to fractures) or osteoarthritis (a breakdown of cartilage that may cause bones to rub to together). Add something as simple as a low-impact, rear-end automobile collision, and it can topple the stack.
So what should you do if you feel low pack pain? First, determine whether it’s acute or chronic pain. Acute pain can be caused by a muscle that stretched so far it tears. It can feel like a sudden stab followed by a burning sting, and it may last for as little as a day or as long as several weeks. Chronic pain may have started as acute but never went away. If pain pasts longer than three months, it’s chronic.
How to treat acute pain: Ice the injured area for 20 minute intervals to reduce inflammation and swelling, says Marilyn Moffat, D.P.T. Ph.D., professor of physical therapy at New York University. After 72 hours, switch to heat to soothe the muscles. Heal also helps with muscle spasms, which are involuntary contractions that send pain signals to the brain. After the initial pain passes, the best thing is to move. Until recently, doctors advised those with acute back pain to lie in bed until the pain passed. But a 2005 study found that people on bed rest have more pain and a slower recovery than those who stay active. To aid movement in the early days of pain, try wearing a lumbosacral corset, which supports the lower back.
Adapted from an article by Perry Garfinkel in the AARP Magazine.
Next month—how to treat chronic pain and the major causes of low back pain.