If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know that it can be debilitating even if it’s occasional or short-term. What’s scary about back pain – particularly acute low back pain – is when your symptoms are due to a chronic illness or condition. That could mean a lifetime of pain and searching for effective treatment options. Understanding the truth about managing back pain could improve your quality of life and help you get the pain relief you need. Let’s look at 10 of these truths we all need to recognize starting today.
Truth #1: Back pain is indeed a serious problem
Your back is responsible for everything your body can do. It keeps you upright. It allows you to move. And perhaps, most importantly, it protects your spinal cord. Your 33 vertebrae move fluidly with 120 muscles, 220 ligaments and 100 joints.
When you have poor posture and/or when spine isn’t functioning properly, it can throw your whole body into disarray. Even something as tiny as a 5mm herniated disc can change your life forever. The more you understand about the mechanics of your back and spine, the easier it is to understand why unnecessary wear and tear should be avoided.
Truth #2: You are likely to experience back pain at some point
Pain research experts estimate that 80% of all people will experience back pain at some point in their life. People with low back pain seem to be suffering at increasing levels. Low back pain is “second most common cause of disability in United States adults and a common reason for lost work days,” causing hardships for millions.
Those numbers will likely continue to drastically increase, due in part to lifestyle choices and work habits. In fact, evidence suggests 54% of Americans who experience back pain spend most of their workday sitting.
If you look at the sedentary trappings of normal life, it make sense. A trigger of chronic pain later in life can be as simple as years of bad posture as a young adult. This is especially prevalent in today’s high tech world, because we find ourselves awkwardly staring down at devices for hours a day – from laptops to cell phones to tablets.
Regardless of your age – whether you’re 10 or 50 – if you’re reading this on a mobile device right now, take note of your posture. It might be time to consider improving care for low back pain.
Truth #3: It’s time for a self-assessment
Give yourself a quick pop quiz:
- Are you holding your mobile device below eye level?
- Is your chin down towards your chest?
- Are your shoulders slumped forward?
- If you tilt your head back, do you feel relief in your neck?
If you answered yes to any of the questions, keep reading. Technology isn’t going anywhere, so learning better posture habits now may help you avoid back pain down the road.
Want to know more about what could be causing your back pain? Click to watch this video below:
Truth #4: Mindfulness can go a long way toward pain relief
The constant use of mobile devices (and laptops) is such a problem when it comes to daily activities and posture, terms like “tech neck” and “text neck” have been coined.
“The curved posture most of us assume while emailing, texting or reading on our devices simply isn’t good for the cervical spine, better known as the neck,” Dr. Kaliq Chang, MD of the Atlantic Spine Center in New Jersey, explains. “Since our properly positioned neck muscles are designed to support the weight of our head – about 10 to 12 pounds – constantly dropping our heads forward to look at a device actually puts about 60 pounds of force on the neck.”
Over time, this repetitive stress on the neck can pull the spine out of alignment. It may sound like a minor problem, but it’s not. It can lead to serious issues like pinched nerves and early onset arthritis.
This means the truth about managing back pain includes being mindful. Use your devices properly to avoid damaging your neck and spine. Hold your cell phone and tablets up to eye height to avoid straining your neck. If you’re using a laptop – especially for many hours consecutively at work – be mindful of how your laptop is positioned. Ideally, you want to be sitting at a 25-30 degree angle, with good lower back support.
Aim to get up and away from desk at least once a hour each day. Take a walk around the office or outside. Stretch and loosen your muscles. This will help alleviate your pain and help you get in the habit of prioritizing your body and your health.
You may even want to give yoga at your desk a try. Here’s a video to help lead you through techniques:
Truth #5: It’s vital to pay attention to your spinal health as you age
Although preventative measures can lessen your chance of back pain, there are no guarantees. Remember that as we age our spines naturally degenerate. One significant truth about managing back pain is that even if you’re careful about good posture, maintaining a healthy weight and meeting the CDC recommendations for physical activity, you could still be at risk for chronic conditions like spinal stenosis, arthritis or degenerative disc disease.
As we age, our spinal discs lose agility. That means your spinal column is at greater risk of damage or injury. If you make sudden jerking movements or frequently lift heavy weights – using incorrect posture – you’re more likely to cause serious damage like bulging or herniated discs. Back pain can quickly intensify if the damage involves a compressed nerve root.
If you’re a chronic pain patient with back pain, you have to be diligent and knowledgeable about your approach to pain. Research shows that babying your back too much could actually be counterproductive when it comes to improving spine health.
The truth is avoiding pain like arthritis isn’t helping. The same theory can be applied to chronic back pain. Dr. David Covall, a doctor experienced in orthopedic care explains, “It may be the lack of physical exercise that can lead to worsening arthritis symptoms. When pain strikes in a hip, knee, ankle or other joint, human nature is to avoid doing things that could aggravate the pain. Although that seems logical, this inactivity could actually exacerbate the condition by leading to muscle atrophy and joint stiffness.”
That’s why maintaining a healthy lifestyle is so important when it comes to spinal health. Remember: the truth about managing back pain means protecting your spine and its alignment.
Truth #6: There are effective ways to manage your back pain
The first step to managing back pain is determining what’s causing it. If you experience back pain that’s bad enough to keep you from you normal activities, you should seek advice from your health care provider. It could be as simple as a muscle strain or as serious as a bulging disc, but you won’t know for sure unless you see a doctor. After you know what you’re dealing with, you can create a pain management plan that works for you.
You may need to manage your pain temporarily with steroid injections, anti inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants. Your healthcare team may also ask that you limit activity for a period of time or put you on bed rest. The best long-term goal is building back your strength with physical therapy. For many people living with back pain, physical therapy provides the best results for long-term health and wellness.
The one thing chronic back pain patients know is consistency is key when managing pain. Even if you have to adjust your plan, you have to stick to it. For most people who live with back pain, the equation includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle with a good diet and a realistic exercise routine.
Since back pain comes with good days and bad days, you need to make the most of the good days. It helps if you can learn to anticipate things that trigger your back pain, so you can avoid activities that cause you pain. Unfortunately that tends to be something you learn through trial and error. One day you may overdo it and then you’re stuck in bed for a few days. If you don’t know exactly what it was that caused your setback, keep a pain journal.
In time, you’ll know what you can do, what you can do with modifications and what you need to avoid to live your best pain-free life.
Truth #7: Core exercises can provide you with some relief
It may be challenging to be physically active when you’re experiencing back pain, but working out can help in the long run. Check out these recommended exercises from UC San Diego Health:
Truth #8: It’s important to maintain a healthy weight
While maintaining a healthy weight can’t prevent back pain, it can certainly lower your risk. When you’re overweight, that weight can put added stress on your back and spine. Regular exercise and eating a nutrient dense, whole food plant-based diet can help you to maintain a healthy weight.
Truth #9: You may need to consider steroid injections for chronic back pain
If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, talk to your health care team about steroid injections. This outpatient procedure is interventional and is performed on patients with chronic back pain. Patients feel results in about five days.
Learn more about this procedure here:
Truth #10: You can take your first step toward back pain relief today
Yes, it may be overwhelming. And yes, you may go through several treatment plans, several workout routines, several medications and several frustrations as you find the best ways to treat your back pain. But there are a plethora of tools and resources at your fingertips as well as lifestyle changes you begin making today to help get you on the path to a pain-free life. What step will you take today?
What are your best tips for managing back pain?
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This post was updated in January 2019 with new information and resources.