Chronic back pain can be difficult to cope with, especially without seeking treatment. At Prairie Spine, we offer a multitude of chronic pain treatments, including surgical and nonsurgical options. If you suffer from chronic back pain, consider reaching out to one of our specialists here at Prairie Spine. To learn more about general treatment options, continue reading.
When your back hurts it’s hard to think of anything other than immediate pain relief. So maybe you ice it, take a tablet or two of ibuprofen, give it some rest and that may do the trick – for now.
If you’re struggling with chronic back pain, you want immediate and lasting pain relief. The most effective approach to relieving pain is one that mixes back pain home remedies with targeted treatments. We’ll tell you about the types of back pain, effective back pain treatments and how to know if you need to speak with a doctor.
What are the types of back pain?
There are two main types of back pain, acute back pain and chronic back pain. The difference between these two types is how long the back pain lasts. It’s possible to feel pain anywhere in your back, though lower back pain is one of the most common conditions we see in patients.
Acute back pain
Acute back pain lasts for less than six weeks. Sudden back pain, like after a fall or a hard day at the gym, is often acute back pain and will typically heal on its own. Lower back pain after a day spent shoveling the driveway that heals in a week or two is an example of acute back pain.
Chronic back pain
Chronic back pain lasts for longer than six weeks. You might not know what caused the pain, and the back pain might come on slowly over the course of several weeks. Chronic back pain often needs treatment in order for it to heal.
What causes back pain?
There are many common causes of back pain, including muscle deconditioning, improper posture, muscle overuse, injury, aging and genetics. And in most cases, chronic back pain isn’t caused by a single event. It’s most likely a combination of many causes that contribute to the pain.
You might not know the exact cause of your back pain, and that’s okay! It’s not necessary to diagnose the cause of back pain in order to treat it. Home remedies and other treatments for back pain can effectively relieve your pain regardless of the cause.
Causes of lower back pain
If you’re wondering why your lower back hurts, you’re not alone. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lower back pain may be the most common type of pain adults in the U.S. experience.
Like with other types of back pain, there are many causes of lower back pain, including muscle strain, herniated discs, repetitive motions and even bad posture. And you’re more likely to deal with chronic low back pain if you’re overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle or regularly lift heavy objects.
Treating chronic back pain
There are two main types of back pain treatments short-term and long-term. Short-term treatments are like a temporary patch, they’ll help you manage your pain for a set period of time, but the pain will eventually return. The goal of long-term back pain treatments is to provide lasting relief. Both types of treatments have their purpose.
Short-term back pain treatments
Short-term pain management helps with immediate back pain relief. These kinds of treatments help you get your pain under control so you can stay active while you pursue a long-term solution. Common short-term treatment strategies combine both home remedies and therapeutic treatments, including
Heat therapy and cold therapy to help back pain
Heat therapy and cold therapy are two sides of the same coin. Heat therapy uses warm water or heating pads to relieve muscle pain, while cold therapy uses ice or cold water. In certain situations, using heat therapy and cold therapy can help relieve pain and promote healing.
For new or acute pain – like pain caused by a fall or other pain that shouldn’t last beyond six weeks – cold therapy can be a great way to reduce swelling, decrease inflammation and numb pain.
For chronic pain – pain that’s expected to last or has lasted for more than six weeks – heat is usually the temperature of choice for soothing pain and stimulating the healing process.
You might benefit from both hot and cold therapy. For instance, after exercise, immediate cold therapy can reduce muscle soreness. After 24 hours, switching to heat therapy can help your muscles heal faster.
Anti-inflammatory medicines for back pain relief
Over-the-counter pain relievers can provide complete relief for most cases of back pain in the short term. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (e.g. Advil) or naproxen sodium (e.g. Aleve) are commonly recommended, but make sure you talk with your doctor first.
Massage therapy to relieve back pain
A therapeutic rubdown from a back specialist can go a long way toward relieving muscle tension and pain. The extra flexibility gained, although temporary, can keep you moving pain-free, making it easier to tackle your day.
Chiropractic care to treat back pain
Spine manipulations performed by a chiropractor can also provide immediate relief. This can allow you to work on exercises or movements that help your joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments in the long term.
Acupuncture for back aches
Acupuncture is a traditional eastern medicine practice shown to reduce back pain for most people who try it. During this therapy, a trained acupuncturist inserts extremely thin needles at strategic points and varying depths throughout your body. This stimulates your central nervous system, jump-starting your body’s natural healing ability. Acupuncture may help reduce inflammation that causes chronic back pain.
Steroid injections for severe back pain
Cortisone injections are usually a temporary solution. While they can be effective at reducing inflammation and providing short-term relief, it’s recommended that patients try less invasive options first.
Common sprains and strains aren’t candidates for steroid injections. Rather, these are reserved for more extreme cases of chronic back pain like debilitating nerve pain and ruptured discs.
Long-term back pain treatments
If chronic back pain makes it difficult for you to move throughout your day, it might be time for you to seek out long-term pain relief. Common back pain treatments used for back pain relief include physical therapy, manual therapy and back surgery.
Specialized physical therapy for back pain
Physical therapy is a type of treatment that uses targeted exercises to improve your strength and flexibility. By strengthening the muscles that support your back, you can take pressure off your spine and reduce back pain. Physical therapy can help you ease and manage pain so you can do everyday activities. And physical therapists are experienced in helping treat both acute and chronic back pain. They’ll guide you through exercises designed to manage your specific symptoms.
Physical therapy is often the best treatment option for back pain. Improving your muscle strength and learning how to perform daily activities without straining your back can resolve your chronic pain. It typically takes about six weeks to complete a back pain physical therapy program, though many people start feeling pain relief after their first visit.
Manual therapy for back pain
Similar to massage therapy, manual therapy is a specialized form of physical therapy. Also known as hands-on care, manual therapy manipulates your muscles and joints. This helps improve your mobility and the function of your body. Think of manual therapy as a more targeted and purposeful massage.
Back surgery for severe back pain relief
Back surgery is typically recommended when other, more conservative treatments aren’t able to help you feel better. Back surgery can be used to treat herniated discs, degenerative disc disease, spine injuries and even severe lower back pain. When it’s done under the right circumstances and at the right time, back surgery can be an effective long-term solution for chronic back pain.
Home remedies for back pain
Mixing home remedies with medical treatments can be good for back pain management. There are several ways you can relieve the strain on your back muscles, reduce your risk of back injuries and improve your overall spine health at home. We recommend making the following changes:
Correcting your posture
How you sit, stand and position your head may seem trivial. In the long run though, good posture is about much more than how you present yourself – it’s critical for keeping your spine in line. By simply keeping your spine where it should be, you give your neck and back everyday relief from unnecessary strain.
Your spine does its best work when it’s straight. Do your best to sit and stand up straight throughout the day. If you notice yourself hunching over your phone or computer, remind yourself to straighten up.
Being mindful of your movements
How many times has someone told you to “lift with your legs, not with your back”? Though it’s almost become cliché, it’s good advice. Your lower back supports a lot of the function of your body. Even if you lift using correct posture most of the time, a few haphazard hoists can be all it takes to cause long-term pain.
For example, parents with small children will lean over and pick them up out of a crib several times a day. Once or twice might not put much strain on the back, but repeating this movement hundreds or thousands of times over the years can cause serious discomfort. Mind those movements today, and your back will be more forgiving in the future.
Strengthen your back with exercise
Exercise regularly to maintain stability, range of motion and a heathy weight. We’ll talk about targeted back exercise in just a bit, but it’s important to know that exercise of any type can help you build muscle strength.
Many people with chronic back pain see improvement with physical activity. If you sit most of the time at your job, be sure to get up every hour and move around. If your old go-to exercises aren’t as enjoyable because they make your back hurt, explore alternatives.
Exercises that are soft on your joints, like water aerobics and yoga, are popular exercises for people with back pain. Look for low-impact exercises offered at your local community center or gym. Your local public school may also offer open swim times or other community classes.
Watch what you eat
A balanced diet is good for your overall health and well-being, sure. But it’s also good for your back.
A healthy diet can keep those extra pounds away, and that means less strain on your spine and back muscles. Also, trans fats and processed foods are associated with pain-causing inflammation. For back pain sufferers, a diet filled with natural, nutrient-rich foods can have you feeling better in more ways than one. Eating anti-inflammatory foods like colorful vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish may be good for back pain.
Stress can cause your muscles to tense up – particularly those in your neck, shoulders and back. All that tension ultimately leads to back pain. Lean on your go-to stress relievers as a way to relieve that day-to-day tension.
Get enough sleep
Getting at least eight hours of sleep at night is good for back pain. We know, we know – easier said than done when your back pain won’t go to bed. There are some sleeping positions for back pain relief that you can try. Sleeping on your side in the fetal position, sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees or sleeping on your stomach with a pillow under your pelvis can take pressure off your spine and help you feel more comfortable.
To make sure you’re getting enough sleep, actually count the hours of good sleep you’re getting. If you wake up in the middle of the night, rather than toss and turn, get up and walk around for a few minutes. Do some light stretches. Then try going back to bed.
How do I know if back pain is serious?
Any time you’re experiencing back pain that lasts longer than two weeks with no improvement, we strongly recommend you seek care. If you have sudden back pain or chronic back pain with certain symptoms, or if you have a history of cancer, the pain could be a sign of something more serious. These symptoms include:
- Unexplained fever
- Urinary incontinence
- Unexplained weight loss
- New difficulty moving your arms or legs
- Saddle anesthesia (numbness in your butt, thighs and groin)
Talk with your doctor about these symptoms so you can rule out any unexpected causes. If you think you need care right away, you can also go to your nearest orthopedic urgent care location.
Getting started with specialized physical therapy for chronic back pain
Many people with chronic back pain are under the impression that they have two options: live with pain or have surgery. This isn’t true. There are several nonsurgical back pain treatments that can help you manage your symptoms, including specialized physical therapy for back pain.