Looking for some relief and reprieve from that ache in your back? Well, you are not alone. There are many people suffering from back pain and are looking for treatment options.
As you might know, different reasons and factors are attributing to the pain in our backs. From simple extraneous activity to extreme cancer, the causes vary. And of course, with the cause, the treatment also varies.
Not to worry though, since most of the times all that you need is to rest your back and you will find relief. There are cases where medication, therapy and another form of treatment are required. But as we pointed out, in the beginning, it depends on the cause for the pain.
Let us now checkout the various treatment options based on the different causes. We are hopeful that this information will help you find the reprieve you want so much from chronic back pain.
Getting rid of back pain
Know the cause
Not all the back pain needs you to undergo surgery or have a reason for you to worry. However, you need to find the underlying cause of the pain to get the right treatment. If the pain seems to persist even after three months, then it is “chronic“, and you need to give it some attention.
Quite a few causes for back pain like arthritis, spinal canal narrowing (also known as spinal stenosis), and disc rupture or herniated disc, weakening of the muscle mass, etc. are due to aging. This is unavoidable as we all get older every day.
There are also genetic causes, and sometimes we are born with a spinal curvature that results in back pain.
And of course, there are the accidents, unavoidable and yet those that can leave you with an ache in your back.
Every cause of back pain has a treatment method. While some might need a minor surgery, it is not the case with all.
Knowing the underlying cause of your pain is your first step in getting rid of it.
We have discussed causes for lower back pain more in detail previously.
Where does it ache?
More often than not, people who complain of back pain, often show that it pains in the lower back region. However, there are different regions in the back where you can feel pain due to different reasons.
The lower back is the region below our rib cage. However, if you have pain in the middle of the upper regions of your back, also known as the “thoracic region“, it is still back pain that you need to pay attention to.
There are times when people often misconstrue kidney pain with back pain. If there is a pain in the hip region, then it may not have anything to do with your spine. It could be due to an infection in your kidneys or possible presence of kidney stones. We have discussed differences between back pain and kidney pain more in detail previously.
It is therefore quite crucial for you to identify where the pain lies. And when you can pinpoint the pain area, it becomes easier for your doctor to make a diagnosis.
So you know the cause, and you also know where it aches, then without further ado, let us take a look at the different treatment options you have.
Treating back pain
We will look at the treatment options at a cause level here. So if you know the cause you can directly scroll to that section and understand the options that you have for your back pain.
If you have pain in your lower back region, more often than not, it could be due to muscle sprain, or muscle or ligament strain. In each of these causes, the pain will be felt in the lumbar region that is the region below our rib cage. The strain could have happened due to poor posture, injuries sustained while sport, lifting heavy objects, etc. In simple words, when you exert too much pressure on your spine than usual, it may result in muscle sprain or strain.
When pulled back muscle is the cause, you will experience, stiffness in your lower back region, a dull ache that continues to persist, and sometimes the pain is accompanied by muscle spasms and radiating pain that passes over the lumbar region to the buttocks.
Irrespective of whether it is a sprain or a strain that you are experiencing, the treatment is pretty similar.
Most of the times, a pulled back muscle can be treated with the simple formula of Rest, Ice, Compression & Elevation (RICE). Of course, taking the help of a therapist can speed up the recovery time. The treatment methods include,
This is where consistent cold is delivered to ensure that the swelling goes down and the pain ebbs away. You might think that an ice pack can help in the same way. However, when you are using ice packs, after some time what happens is that they draw in the warmth of your body and their temperature is no longer cold making them ineffective. Another drawback with ice packs is that they are limited to only the region where you can place them.
In the case of cryotherapy, we use wraps that conform to the body’s shape, and it has a cold circulating within the chambers providing you a consistent temperature all through the treatment time. This means there is far better reach to all the damaged muscles than a simple ice pack.
2. Active compression
You can make use of braces and elastic bandages to provide you instant relief from the swelling in your back and thus the pain. This is referred to as the static compression method. What is more effective is the use of active compression where a natural contraction is executed through the muscles to eliminate any excess fluid between them, reducing the swelling more effectively.
This therapy also uses body conforming wraps where there is air inside the chambers, which is pumped in a way that it makes your muscles squeeze, release and repeat. This ensures not just a better way of treating the swelling, but it also improves the effectiveness of cryotherapy.
3. Rapid contrast
The contrast in this context refers to alternating between heat and cold therapy. This is much-needed after your inflammation dies down and your pain is considerably lessened. This is when you have to improve the blood circulation and ensure that the healing region recovers with the right nutrients.
Yes, the application of just heat can improve circulation, but it has the flip side of causing more swelling. This is the reason for alternating it with cold packs. You can get the benefit from both the heat and the cold packs using this therapy.
All the above three therapies are very effective in helping you recover from back pain caused by pulled muscle, also known as a muscle sprain or muscle strain.
This is when you have a narrowed spinal canal which causes the compression along the nerves in your spine. This is quite common in people who are above the age of 50, but sometimes a few of us are unlucky to be born with this structure. In such cases, you will find back pain along with other symptoms like loss or lack of bowel/ bladder movements, etc.
While there is no specific cure or way to increase the width of your spinal canal, you can make your life better with some of these methods given below.
1. Physical therapy
Yes, we are referring to the exercise, that we been always busy trying to avoid. And a big no if you are going to do it only during weekends. Do it regularly and diligently to see positive results in your back pain issues.
Studies indicate that physical therapy can considerably reduce the back pain making you more balanced, flexible and improve your endurance as well. Research shows that the benefits from physical therapy were as good, if not better than surgery in these cases.
While there are no specific exercise routines, you can include pelvic tilts, squats, bends, etc. to your regimen. Not only will exercise help in improving your flexibility but when coupled with a balanced diet can help deal with obesity, which is another cause for back pain.
Some patients are advised to have braces around their stomach or corsets which will make the exercising all the simpler. However, make a note not to overdo the routine and ensure that you have your doctor’s buy-in on what you do.
2. Medicines and injections
There are both prescribed and over the counter (OTC) medications that can help with Spinal Stenosis.
The OTC drugs are the ones that will help to reduce inflammation and pain, the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like the Advil, Ibuprofen, Aspirin, etc.
There are also analgesics like Tylenol that can provide you relief from pain but not help with the swelling.
What you need to keep in mind though is that both prescribed and OTC medicines have their side effects. The NSAIDs are often associated with stomach issues like ulcers. In older adults, who are more prone to this condition, these medicines can be the cause of strokes or heart attacks.
It is therefore important that you take only prescribed medication from your doctor who knows your medical history.
Injections again help to provide you relief from pain or inflammation or both. But you need your doctor’s input before using this as your means.
3. Acupuncture and Chiropractic measures
Acupuncture is where tiny needles are inserted into specific parts of the body to help deal with the pain. It has to be done precisely and is a very old Chinese method of treating various ailments.
The Chiropractors on the other hand use traction and other methods to adjust the spine, pulling bones to make more space for nerves.
There are different theories and testimonies on the outcome of these two practices.
This is when you have absolutely no relief from other treatment options, and your pain level has exceeded your tolerance limits. Again this is not a cure for spinal stenosis, but it can help alleviate the pain.
Three surgery options are taken into account
- Foraminotomy where surgery is done to expand a part of the vertebrae to allow some room for the nerves to branch out.
- Laminectomy where a bone or ligaments are removed to eliminate the pressure on the nerve roots.
- Spinal fusion, where vertebrae of the spinal cord are fused to make minimal movement in the spine.
Nearly 40% of the population is expected to have suffered or suffered from sciatica, at least once in their lifetime, as per scientific researches. Here you would not just have pain in your back, but you would find the pain traveling down to your legs since sciatic nerve is under pressure. This nerve starts in our lower back and ends just below the knees of our legs.
So what are the treatment options in such cases?
1. Treatment for acute sciatica
In the case of Acute Sciatica, you can easily get relief by exercising self-measures such as,
- a) The painkillers like ibuprofen that you can get over the counter or through online medical shops. However, the painkillers will have side effects and may not suit everyone. So you have to get in touch with your doctor before taking them.
- b) Exercising which involves slight stretching of your back muscles or walking.
- c) Applying compression packs to the pain area, both hot and cold or either one can help with pain relief. Alternating between the two packs can prove quite beneficial.
2. Treatment for chronic sciatica
When you experience pain due to sciatica consistently for a prolonged period, then you have to seek medical attention.
- Physical therapy where exercising the back muscles can help with improving the flexibility of your muscles.
- You are using painkillers for instant and immediate relief. However, we suggest taking a doctor’s recommendation on the best course of medication for pain relief.
- CBT, (cognitive behavioral therapy) which involves training your mind on how to react to the pain.
When the above-said treatments do not bear any fruit, then it is time for you to consider surgery as a possible option. If your pain intensifies, then your doctor might suggest any of the below two options:
- Discectomy which involves removal of the ruptured or the herniated disc.
- Lumbar laminectomy which involves widening the space between the muscles of the spinal cord to provide room for the nerves.
In both the options, you have to weigh the pros and cons carefully and then make a choice that is much suitable for your condition.
Other treatment options for back pain
Apart from the treatment mentioned above options, there are other options which can provide relief from chronic back pain.
- Chronic back pain does not effect your physical state but can have an equally huge impact on your mental stability. People often find themselves falling into depression when they suffer from back pain. It is therefore beneficial to practice yoga, meditation, tai chi or other relaxation and cognitive strategies to deal with the pain.
- As our ancestors preach it, our food can be medicine. Avoid taking foods that are high in sugars and trans fats. Also, avoid processed foods as these food items can cause inflammation in the muscles. It can also add to your body weight, leading to obesity and further back pain. A healthy diet leads to a healthy weight and hence a healthy back.
- Make some minor changes to your lifestyle. If you have to repeat the same work, then you may want to take a break to break the monotony. For instance, if your work involves sitting for long hours, then taking a break to stretch your muscles can go a long way in keeping your muscles from weakening.
- There are also laser therapies, biofeedback therapy, stimulation of nerves electrically which will block the pain signals, massages, etc. which can help to deal with chronic back pain without resorting to surgical procedures.
- Ultrasound is a process where sound waves are used to massage the soft muscles helping them to relax and provide you relief.
Is there a risk involved in surgery?
Like every other surgery, the back surgery also carries risks of its own. It also depends on one’s body condition. Doctors do not recommend surgery unless there is no other venue to provide the relief that your body needs. It is better to seek medical opinion more than once when there is a suggestion to operate on your back is made to you.
Back pain is a common occurrence among people who are above the age of 30. While there might be different causes to your back pain, if it lasts for months, then you have to consult with your doctor immediately. Chronic back pain when unattended can lead to other complications like permanent nerve damage.
It is true that aging is one of the major factors for back pain and yet a healthy lifestyle can keep our body young even as we grow old. Keep yourself fit with a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle, and you will find the back pain ebbing away from you.