Nearly everyone has back pain from time to time. And it’s not surprising when you consider how hard your back works – lifting, bending and performing dozens of tasks each day. Back pain is the second most common reason for seeing a primary care physician behind the common cold, and it affects 80 percent of us at some point in our lives.
Identify the Source
The main culprit in back pain? Weak and strained muscles. Strains can result from a variety of activities and daily habits – overdoing it during a workout or slumping over your laptop. This kind of back pain typically lasts two weeks and up to six weeks max. However, it can reoccur if you don’t change your habits.
A bad back can also be part of your DNA. Arthritis that affects the spine can be inherited, showing up in younger people who don’t have back pain resulting from an injury. It’s also more common as you grow older because the disks in the back can degenerate.
Lingering back pain accompanied by other symptoms can signal something more serious. Nerve-related issues like tingling, numbness or weakness in the arms or legs that gets progressively worse, can cause long-term nerve damage if it’s untreated. In this case, check in with your physician as soon as possible.
While surgery is typically a last resort after physical therapy and other treatment options, it may be necessary in some cases. Surgeries for nerve-related problems resolve symptoms in most cases and can help prevent permanent damage. Many newer surgical techniques reduce recovery time by using smaller incisions and more precise imaging methods.
Address Your Aching Back
If back pain is your only symptom, start first with these self-care tips:
- Use an over-the-counter pain reliever daily as directed, unless you have a medical reason not to do so.
- Apply a heating pad to reduce muscle spasms and pain.
- Try an ice pack wrapped in a towel to reduce pain and keep swelling down.
- Keep moving but stick to gentle activities like walking.
- Avoid bending and twisting motions.
In some instances you shouldn’t wait to seek medical attention for back pain – like after a fall or injury, back pain plus weakness, numbness or tingling in your arms and legs, severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest, or back pain plus trouble urinating, fever or unexpected weight loss. And if you’re still in pain after two weeks, schedule an appointment with your physician to diagnose the source of your discomfort.
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