Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Managing back pain

<p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Back pain is a common problem that affects 4 out of 5 of us at some point. Back pain can be acute, where the pain starts quickly but then reduces after a few days or weeks, or chronic, where pain might last on and off for several weeks or even months and years. Here are a number of questions that majority of my patients present with.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What could be causing my back pain?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Back pain is often caused by a simple muscle, tendon or ligament strain and not usually by a serious problem.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Most often, back pain does not have one simple cause but may be due to a range of factors, including: Poor posture, lack of exercise resulting in stiffening of the spine and muscle strains or sprains.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Apart from the factors listed above, there are also specific conditions which are associated with pain felt in the back.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">What other conditions can cause back pain?</strong></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Spondylosis</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">As we grow older, the discs in the spine become thinner and the spaces between the vertebrae become narrower. Spurs of bone (osteophytes) may form at the edges of the vertebrae and facet joints. This is called spondylosis. All of us will have some of these changes in our spine as we grow older, but they are not painful.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Sciatica</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Back pain is sometimes associated with pain in the legs, and there may be numbness or a tingling feeling. This is called sciatica and is caused by irritation or squeezing of one of the spinal nerves (called the sciatic nerve). For most people who develop sciatica, the leg pain tends to be the most troublesome symptom and they may not have back pain at all.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Pain travels down the leg because of the irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lumbar spine, but there&#39;s actually nothing wrong with the leg itself. In most cases the reason for the nerve irritation is a bulging disc. Discs are designed to bulge but sometimes a bulge can &#39;catch&#39; on the sciatic nerve roots causing pain that travels all down the leg to the foot.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Sciatica is fairly uncommon and fortunately most people recover fairly quickly, although in some cases it might take a number of months. About 60% of all people with sciatica get better within a few weeks to months.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Spinal stenosis</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Spinal stenosis is back pain associated with pain in the legs which starts after a few minutes&#39; walk and tends to get better very quickly when you sit down. This can happen from birth or develop as we get older.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Symptoms often affect both legs but one may be worse than the other. The pain usually eases when you sit down and rest, and some people have less discomfort if they walk a little stooped. Like sciatica, the main problem tends to be leg pain more than back pain.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">In most cases, neither sciatica nor spinal stenosis are a cause for alarm, but if the symptoms cause you a lot of trouble and greatly affect your quality of life, then you should consult your doctor.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">When should I see a doctor about my back pain?</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">You should see your doctor if your pain is very severe or lasts for a long period of time and if the pain affects your everyday activities.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">How can I manage my back pain?</strong></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Painkillers</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Simple painkillers such as paracetamol may help. You should use them only when you need them. It is important to take them regularly and at the recommended dose, especially when you are having a flare-up of your back pain, but you shouldn&#39;t take them more often than every 4 hours up to a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">You can use painkillers and NSAIDs for a short course of treatment of about a week to 10 days. If they have no effect after this time, then they are unlikely to work.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">However, if they do help but the pain returns when you stop taking them, you can try another short course. You can also try rubbing anti-inflammatory creams or gels on the affected areas.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Exercise</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Exercise is the most important way that you can help yourself if you have back pain. Research shows that bed rest for more than a couple of days doesn&#39;t help back pain and in the long-term actually makes it worse as the muscles in your back become weak and you become less fit.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Exercise also releases endorphins – your body&#39;s natural painkillers.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Exercise might make your back feel a bit sore at first but it doesn&#39;t cause any harm. Start off slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do. You can also try taking some painkillers before the exercises. Over time, your back will get stronger and more flexible and this should reduce pain.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">More often, people stop exercising once their back pain has cleared up, but it&#39;s best to keep up with the exercise to maintain strength and fitness as this will help to reduce the chances of your back pain returning.</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Exercises that may help include: Swimming, walking, yoga, and gym exercises</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Posture</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Try to maintain good posture when sitting at home, at work or in the car. Staying in awkward positions for instance while working or driving, will affect the soft tissues in your back and will increase your pain or slow down your recovery.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Lifting correctly</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Learning to lift correctly is important to help prevent further episodes of back pain. Avoid heavy lifting if you can. In case you want to lift something, some tips to remember: Bend your knees when lifting and allow your spine to move as necessary, without twisting it, try and split loads between both hands and keep the weight close to your body.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Diet and nutrition</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">There are no special diets that have been shown either to help or prevent back pain. However, if you&#39;re overweight you should consider changing your diet and doing some regular exercise to help you lose weight as this will reduce the strain on your back.</span></p><p><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">Pain management programs</strong></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">These programs may help you control your pain and teach you how to live with chronic pain. They&#39;re usually outpatient sessions and involve learning about the physical and psychological factors that can contribute to pain and what you can do to overcome them.
</span></p><p><span style="font-family: helvetica;">This article was first published in Business Daily Africa. Read more </span><a href=""><strong style="font-family: helvetica;">HERE</strong></a><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/></p>

Share this on: