Back Pain: A Common Cause of Disability

Back pain, whether acute or chronic, can appear abruptly or develop over time. It can range from a dull annoying ache to a disabling unrelenting sharp or stabbing sensation that interferes with activities of daily living. Although it can affect people of all ages, its incidence increases with aging.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke estimates that sometime during the lifetime, approximately 80% of American adults will experience low back pain, the most common cause of work-related disability and a leading cause of missed work days in this country.  Both men and women are affected by low back pain, which can be precipitated by a traumatic accident, heavy lifting, or an age-related change in the spine. Low back pain typically lasts from only a few days to a few weeks and is most likely to resolve by itself with self care. Chronic back pain, which last for 12 or more weeks after an injury or an underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated, may require physical therapy or surgery.

Symptoms of back pain may include muscle aches; shooting or stabbing pain; pain that radiates down the leg; pain that intensifies with bending, lifting or standing; and pain that decreases with lying down. It can result from muscle or ligament strain; osteoporosis; arthritis; skeletal conditions or damaged disks. In addition to aging, other factors that can contribute to back pain include improper lifting, carrying excess weight, lack of exercise; and even smoking.

Back pain can often be treated with the use of heat and/or over-the-counter pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium may relieve acute back pain. If over-the-counter pain relievers prove unsuccessful, muscle relaxants may offer relief. Topical pain relievers, such as creams or ointments may be effective in providing pain relief. Sometimes narcotics or injections may emerge as a potential source of pain relief if other methods have failed.

Prevention of back pain is an important strategy in retaining health status and mobility. Maintaining an exercise regimen including walking, bicycle riding or swimming can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Likewise, yoga can help to stretch and strengthen muscles and improve body posture.

To optimize prospects for maintaining back health, always stretch prior to exercising. Be conscious of standing and sitting up straight; avoid lifting heavy objects and when lifting items, use your legs rather than back muscles; sit in chairs with adequate lumbar support; maintain a healthy weight by adopting healthy eating patterns and portion sizes; wear comfortable shoes with low heels; and stop smoking.

If you have or develop back pain, consult your provider to determine its cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Don’t lift heavy items, or bend or twist your back, which can exacerbate conditions that are causing back pain. Follow your provider’s directions and refrain from activities that have previously contributed to developing back pain.

Ithaca Primary Care

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