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Back Pain Got You Down?

A non-surgical approach may help alleviate your back pain

by: Ashton Stanton, MD
If you have ever experienced debilitating pain in your back or spine, you are not alone.Between 80 percent and 90 percent of the general population will experience at least one episode of debilitating back pain at some point in their life as back pain is actually the second most common reason people visit the doctor.*

For a number of people, symptoms may subside with conservative treatment measures such as exercise, mild forms of pain medication and ice. Ice is not only an effective pain reliever and anti-inflammatory, but it also acts as a muscle relaxant. For other individuals, additional specialized treatment may be necessary to alleviate back or spine pain.

Individuals who are looking for a less invasive approach to back pain treatment might consider seeing a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist, also known as a physiatrist. Physical medicine and rehabilitation is one of 24 medical specialties certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties. These specialized doctors, or physiatrists, focus on non-surgical spine and musculoskeletal care.

Musculoskeletal medicine refers to the care of muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints. Physiatrists are bone, muscle and nerve experts who treat injuries or disorders that affect how you move and function. By treating patients with a combination of minimally invasive procedures coupled with specialized physical therapy, physiatrists strive to maximize your pain relief and function without surgery.

If your back or spine pain persists and you decide to see a physiatrist, they will begin by making an accurate diagnosis of what is causing your pain. A physiatrist may take into account your medical history, a physical examination and imaging such as an MRI when making a diagnosis. An accurate diagnosis is important to ensure treatment is focused on the cause of your pain.

For example, you may have pain in your back and suspect it to be a muscle spasm, but it is important to understand your muscles are often only the innocent bystanders. When a deeper structure in your back is inflamed, it can lead to muscle spasms. To alleviate the pain, a physiatrist may first work to address the underlying problem with your deeper pain.

Some people attempt to treat their symptoms and not the problem. While pain medication can offer temporarily relief from your back pain, it has side effects such as drowsiness and it does not actually work on addressing the deeper issue. A physiatrist may suggest that you use ice instead of narcotic pain medications as it does not have these side effects and is still quite successful at helping to reduce symptoms.

When you first experience back pain, you may try conservative treatment at home before seeing a doctor. However, if you have any numbness, tingling, weakness or pain radiating into your legs, you should immediately seek medical attention.

Back and spine problems occur for a number of reasons from something as simple as coughing or tying your shoe to being in a car accident or lifting something heavy. Women who have recently delivered a child may be at an increased risk of developing a back problem because of a decrease in their core strength following childbirth. To prevent back problems, new mothers should be conscious of protecting their back and core area, especially for the first six months following childbirth.

Exercises that strengthen your core are a good preventative measure for everyone, not only new mothers. Core strengthening and a regular exercise routine can also be helpful in times when you are recovering from an episode of back pain. Most back pain can be resolved in six to 12 weeks with a specialized treatment plan developed by a physiatrist. It is important to remain patient as you go through the treatment and recovery process. Rest is not always the best course of treatment for back problems as movement and light exercise such as walking are effective in helping improve most spine related problems.

Swimming exercises are appropriate activities as they allow you to move in a non-weight bearing environment. However, your individual exercise plan should be tailored to meet your specific back problem by a professional. I see people of all ages with lower back pain, from teenagers to people in their 80s. The only way to be sure about what is causing your pain is to see an expert as back problems can mask themselves in a number of ways. A pain in your hip or leg could actually be related to something in your back and a diagnosis can be elusive.

Very few cases of back pain actually require surgical intervention. The vast majority of back pain cases can be resolved through a combination of conservative treatment options including exercise, over-the-counter pain medications and minimally invasive procedures.

*Source:Health.com