Your spine is amazing. It holds you securely upright, while providing you with incredible flexibility that allows you to bend and twist. Your spine gives you the power to tap-dance, lift your baby, catch a Hail Mary pass and an infinite number of other actions.
However, the spine and back are a common source of pain for many people. In fact, 80 percent to 90 percent of people in the United States will suffer from back pain at some time during their lives.
Back pain is the second most common reason people visit their family doctors, and chronic back pain – the kind that doesn’t go away in 12 weeks or so – can create enormous amounts of medical bills – not to mention discomfort, disruption in your everyday life and frustration in finding relief.
Here are four things you should know about back pain, with advice from spine health experts Teresa Dews, MD and Todd Francis, MD, PhD.
1. Gentle stretches before going to bed can help ease a stiff back in the morning
If you get up in the morning and have trouble straightening up, try some gentle back stretches before going to bed, Dr. Dews says. For example, lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Or try sitting in a chair and pulling your knee up to your chest. If stiffness persists, discuss with your doctor whether medications can help.
2. Back pain may be caused by other problems
In addition disc herniation, back pain also may be caused by arthritis, muscular or ligament strain, infection or cancer. Your physician can evaluate what may be happening to you through a physical exam. Your physician also will review your pain symptoms and history, as well as go over your medical and surgical history. Imaging also may help determine the cause of your back pain.
3. It is better to wait as long as you can before undergoing back surgery
It is highly advisable to wait as long as you can before having spine surgery, Dr. Francis says. This isn’t because of more advanced procedures, however, but because back surgery can help relieve some, but not all, causes of back pain. Most back pain resolves by itself within a few months with conservative treatment. Back surgery might be an option if conservative treatments haven’t worked and your pain is persistent and disabling, Dr. Francis says.
4. You can help your chronic back pain by improving your overall health
Chronic back pain is like any other medical condition – you also should concentrate on your overall health because chronic pain can impact so many areas, Dr. Dews says. Smoking cessation, adequate sleep, stress management, physical activity and good body mechanics, as well as an excellent diet are important for your health and decreasing your pain. The best kind of pain management evaluation will review your pain in relationship to your medical, surgical and psychosocial history.