Back pain is all too common for Australians. According to research, it’s right up there with headache, arthritis, hypertension, asthma and the common cold. But a desire for quick solutions when the pain hits could lead to a barrage of unhelpful tests and invasive treatments that don’t provide long-term relief, says Dr. Roger Chou, a physician and an associate professor of internal medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland.
So following your first instinct often isn’t your best bet. Here’s what is:
Your first instinct: Call 000!
Your best bet: Stay at home.
“The vast majority of people with back pain don’t need to see a doctor,” says Chou. However, do call your GP ASAP if you have any of the following:
Foot drag, which could be a sign of a neurological problem
Difficulty urinating, which could signal possible compression at the tail of the spinal cord
Fever, a sign of infection
A history of cancer
Your first instinct: Put it on ice!
Your best bet: Apply heat.
There’s strong evidence that heat alleviates back pain. “Most people think ice is best, but there are very few studies supporting that,” says Chou. Heating pads, hot gel packs and even hot baths can help.
Your first instinct: Vicodin, please!
Your best bet: Take OTC pain relievers.
Narcotics and muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness and dry mouth and possibly addiction, so they shouldn’t be your first line of defence, says Chou. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen, as directed on the bottle -- both over-the-counter drugs are proven ways to relieve back pain.
Your first instinct: Pull the curtains and lie down for a few days.
Your best bet: Do normal activities.
It seems logical that taking to your bed would give your back muscles some much-needed rest, but studies show that people who lie down take longer to recover. Instead, maintain your normal level of activity as much as possible, says Chou.
If you haven’t gotten better in three to four weeks, or if your pain is still so severe after a week that you’re unable to work, call your doctor. You may need some stronger pain medication in the short term while your body recovers. You might also consider alternative therapies that have been shown to work well in some patients: massage, spinal manipulation, acupuncture and a process called cognitive behavioural therapy, which helps identify and correct mistaken assumptions about your pain.
By Kim Schworm Acosta for Oral Care and Health Daily