Tips and Tools: Back pain

Back pain often comes on unexpectedly and can be the result of an accident, sudden movement or long-term stress on the spine. Once you have a back problem, there are ways that you can try to reduce repeat injuries and allow yourself to move freely again.

Back pain is especially intrusive and debilitating because of the central role the spine plays in our lives. Although we all get occasional back pains from sitting too long, for instance, acute or prolonged back pain could be a signal that there's a problem. A visit to the doctor is in order to rule out any serious difficulties.

The spine is a very complex structure, so the reasons for pain are many and varied. One major cause is degeneration of the disks. Through the wear and tear of life, the disks act as the body's shock absorber. After a while, these can compress, which triggers pain. Even though the problem might seem to have started suddenly, chances are that the condition was building up, and a sudden movement may have been the final straw.

Not long ago, many doctors recommended bed rest for sore backs but that way of thinking has changed. Bed rest is still recommended but only for the first 24 to 48 hours of pain - then it's time to get moving again. For an acute strain, short-term bed rest, over-the-counter pain relievers (such acetaminophen or ASA) and heat packs are often enough to get you over the hump. Moving about isn't comfortable but it's often truly the best way to heal your back if your doctor advises you to do this. In addition to treating the pain, your doctor might recommend a muscle relaxant.

Physiotherapists also play a role in back health. They can teach you how to move so you can avoid pain. They can also show you how to prevent future back injuries.

Severe back injuries may need surgery but, like bed rest, doctors are trying to limit the amount of operations being done. It seems that time is really the healer in most back injuries and now doctors are waiting months before deciding whether or not an operation really is the best solution.

The best way to beat back pain is through prevention. Some of the following suggestions might help avoid a back injury:

  • maintain your ideal body weight- more weight increases the stress on the spine
  • exercise to increase the strength of your abdominal and lower back muscles, which help support the spine
  • learn to lift objects safely
  • practice good posture, both standing and sitting
  • wear good, supportive shoes

Learn more about Pain Management