Low back pain can be completely debilitating. Because of the integral role it has connecting the upper body and lower body, there is a lot of pressure on the back to support your system. As an integral part of your strength, flexibility, and mobility, when your low back hurts, it can make it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, let alone move about your daily life. Therefore, if you are experiencing back pain, you want to promptly address it. Fortunately, there are a variety of interventions out there that have helped individuals with lower back pain get back to normal. The specific treatment that will work for you might not be the same as someone else you know, which is why a lot of your treatment may involve trial and error. In this blog, we will go over all the most prevalent treatments for this condition.
Self-Care for Lower Back Pain
When you first experience low back pain, you’ll want to try self-care measures as your first line of defense. Here are the most common methods for self-care of low back pain:
- Rest. If you are having back pain, it might be as simple as taking a short break from strenuous activity. If you suspect that your back pain is due to an injury from exercise, it might help to take a couple of days off. However, don’t take too much time off, as inactivity can make it harder for your back to heal.
- Modifying certain activities. You can also modify certain daily activities to accommodate your back pain. For example, if you find that sitting for long periods of time is aggravating your pain, make a point to get up every 20 minutes and walk around. Minimize or eliminate activities that make the pain worse to promote healing.
- Heat/cold therapy. Both heat and cold offer healing properties that could help you with your back pain. You can use heat from a hot bath, a hot water bottle, heating pad, or heat wrap to ease the tension in your muscles and promote blood flow to the area. If your back is in pain because of inflammation, cold therapy can help to reduce the swelling in the area. Apply an ice pack to the area to use cold therapy, also known as cryotherapy. It can be helpful to alternate heat and ice before activity; try applying heat before an activity to improve flexibility and mobility, and ice afterward to reduce potential swelling. Regardless of whether you are using heat or ice, make sure to protect your skin to avoid damage to the tissue.
- OTC medications. If your back pain is due to inflammation of some kind, you may benefit from taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Alternatively, any pain reliever can help, such as acetaminophen, which works by interfering with pain signals to the brain.
Keep in mind that while you don’t need to see a doctor to administer these self-care measures, that you should implement with careful attention. Using any sort of medication comes with risks. Consulting with a doctor is wise to determine which is the best self-care measure for you.
Physical Therapy Exercises for Low Back Pain
If your back pain is chronic, then you might require physical therapy. While it is best to work with a physical therapist to address your individual needs, here is an idea for what types of exercises can help with low back pain.
- Stretching. Many people do not take the time to stretch, much to their detriment. Stretching the low back, buttocks, legs, and hips can help low back pain because these are the muscles used to support the weight of the upper body. If these muscles are flexible and mobile, the back is able to move without injury. If you don’t stretch much, don’t try to push yourself to twist into a pretzel. Try light stretches for 20 to 30 seconds at first, and if you feel any pain, stop.
- Strengthening. Low back pain may be due to a weak core, meaning the abdominal, hip, and glute muscles. Strengthening these muscles may help you with back pain.
- Low-impact aerobic exercise. This type of exercise helps to promote blood flow to the low back, supporting healing from injury without putting too much stress on the spine. Examples of low-impact aerobics include biking, walking, step machines, and water aerobics.
Non-Surgical Low Back Pain Medical Treatments
- Muscle relaxants. This medication that can be prescribed by your doctor is often used to cope with low back pain. It acts as a depressant to the central nervous system, increasing the mobility of tense muscles. These are a temporary solution to the low back pain, and should not be used to manage pain over time.
- Narcotic pain medications. Also known as painkillers, these medications may be prescribed by your doctor to treat short, intense pain, such as after a surgery. These are highly addictive, so they cannot be used over the long-term for treatment.
- Braces. A back brace may help relieve some of the discomfort. Essentially, these braces take some of the pressure off of your muscles to support your body, speeding the healing process. This intervention is best paired with physical therapy.
- Steroids. You may find that steroid injections help temporarily relieve pain by reducing inflammation around a compressed nerve root.
Surgery for Lower Back Pain
After six to 12 weeks of treatment, if your low back pain has not gotten better, you may be a candidate for surgery. Whether or not spine surgery is the way to go will depend on several factors:
- Severity of pain. If your back pain is only mild or moderate, back surgery is not the best option for you.
- Ability to function. If it is near impossible to get your daily life activities done because of your pain, surgery is more likely to be recommended.
- Type of surgery. Depending your specific symptoms, the exact type of surgery needed to heal your pain will vary. Some procedures will be more invasive than others, and will require more healing time. These days, because of advancements made in surgery, there are many types of spine surgery that can be performed on an outpatient basis and with a short recovery period.
- Mental well-being. Studies show that mentally healthy people are more likely to see improvement after surgery. If you feel positive about undergoing surgery, you are more likely to have a good outcome afterward.
Which surgery is best will be dependent on the cause of your back pain, but some surgeries that are often used to address low back pain include:
- Decompression surgeries. This type of surgery removes whatever is pressing on the nerve root from the spinal column, such as a herniated disc or bone spur. The two primary types of decompression surgeries for low back pain or a microdiscectomy and a laminectomy.
- Lumbar spinal fusion surgery. Fusion surgery is essentially when the surgeon removes soft tissue between two vertebral bones and replaces it with metal or bone. This helps the bone grow together over a period of time, slowly fusion together into one long bone that stabilizes the spine.
- Lumbar artificial disc. An alternative to fusion surgery, this method involves replacing a disc with an artificial one. This may require less healing time than other surgeries, though it is a relatively new intervention and more research needs to be done on the long-term effects.
This is not an exhaustive list of surgical options when it comes to low back pain, and when you come into our spine clinic, we will help determine the best course of action. If your low back pain is making it difficult for you to go about your daily life, it’s time to speak with a medical professional. At ClinTech Center for Spine Health, we are well-versed in all issues related to the spine and may be able to provide the relief you need. Contact us today to speak with an orthopedic specialist in Johnstown!