Read the frequently asked questions below about back pain and discover tips to help avoid it so you can enjoy your life more fully.
- What is back pain?
Back pain is the result of trauma or injury to the lower back. It can also result from a medical disorder such as arthritis. A back injury may be caused by a sporting activity, various work around the house or garden, or a car accident or other sudden jolt that places added stress on spinal bones and tissues.
Low back pain that lasts from a few days to a few weeks is usually considered acute or short-term. Pain that affects the sciatic nerve and shoots down one or both legs is called sciatica.
Back pain symptoms may include anything from muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain, an inability to stand straight or limited flexibility and range of motion.
Back pain that lasts longer than three months is considered chronic back pain. Often it is progressive and a cause can be difficult to determine.
- Is treatment available?
Restoring proper back function and strength, as well as preventing additional back injuries, is the goal of all back pain treatments.
Once you suffer a low back injury you should try to resume your normal activities as soon as possible. We recommend bed rest for only one to two days.
The use of either cold or hot compresses has really never been scientifically proved to be of use in treating a low back injury. However, a compress may help alleviate pain and inflammation and it does seem to increase flexibility on some patients.
For most patients, exercise seems to be the most effective way to recover from low back pain. This helps to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles.
The vast majority of low back pain is treated without surgery. This includes both acute and chronic back pain. Medical therapies involve using pain relievers to reduce discomfort and anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation. Pain relief that is effective and long lasting may require a combination of prescription and over-the-counter medications.
For serious back injuries that do not respond to other treatments, we may recommend surgery as a last resort.
- What should I do if I suffer a low back injury?
Many patients who suffer from low back pain recover full function within several days of an injury. However, if after several days of caring for your injury by yourself without noticeable improvement, you should contact your physician.
- How can I avoid a low back injury?
Recurring back pain is usually the result of what’s called “improper body mechanics.” These non-traumatic back pain causes are mostly preventable.
You can help prevent low back injuries by performing exercises that don’t jar or strain your back. You also should maintain correct standing/sitting posture and always properly lift objects using your legs. Heavy lifting, constant vibrations, repetitive motions, poor posture, and other stressful activities are the cause of most low back injuries.
You can also create a home and/or work environment that can greatly reduce the chance of a low back injury while maintaining a healthy back. Called “ergonomics,” you may be able to design furniture, tools, and a workplace that protects your back muscles from injury.
Preventing Back Injuries
Back injuries account for over 30 percent of all workers’ compensation expenses. Controlling these injuries is critical to reducing these expenses. The idea is to keep your back “on track.”
To assist you in preventing back injuries, here are simple steps you can follow:
- Stretching: Stretching several times a day can help build and maintain strength and flexibility. Always do stretching exercises slowly and gently. Immediately stop any activity that causes pain.
- Lifting: While there is no best way to lift a heavy object, there are some tips to keep in mind:
- Lift with your legs and keep your back straight by bending at the knees.
- Rather than twisting, take small steps to turn your body and the load.
- Keep the lifted item close to your body.
- Never lift a heavy item over your shoulder.
- Don’t bend at the waist while keeping your legs locked.
- Make sure those items you lift regularly are stored at waist level.
- Sitting & Driving: Try to sit with your knees higher than your hips. Also remember to stand and move around from time to time. Do not sit hunched forward or in a slouch position. Avoid sitting in one position for several hours.
- Standing: When standing, try to put one foot up on a rail or ledge. Also, try to stand with one foot in front of the other while using a pelvic tilt. Never stand with your knees in a locked position or stand at attention with your shoulders thrown back.
These healthy back tips and other medical information are provided as a courtesy to our patients and other interested parties. Southwest Florida Neurosurgical Associates, Southwest Florida Rehab & Pain Management Associates, its physicians and employees make no endorsements to the information presented here and assume no liability associated with the information contained therein. A comprehensive medical exam is necessary before any treatment recommendation can be made.