We are no strangers to movement. We bend to pick up children, swoop to catch falling objects, lift, pull, and stretch. That’s probably why back pain is such a common health problem. It’s an ailment Stephanie Williams, a physician with ProMedica, sees every day.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is caused by a variety of factors. Mostly it is the result of poor body mechanics, such as bad posture, lifting without bending your knees and twisting your back. When your back muscles aren’t properly supported during movement, you risk straining or pulling muscles and causing back pain, inflammation and tenderness.
“Being obese and having poor core strength also puts you at risk for back pain,” explains Williams. “Core muscles are the abdominal and back muscles that support your spine and pelvis. When these muscles are weak, you lack the support you need to keep your body properly aligned. You are also more likely to pull or strain weak muscles.”
For some people, back pain is a rare occurrence, such as when you pull your back every few years due to an injury. For others, back pain is chronic. If you have three or more flare-ups per year and regular back pain throughout the year, your condition is considered chronic.
How Can I Treat Back Pain?
Routine back pain usually goes away on its own without medical treatment, but there are home remedies that can help you heal. Anti-inflammatory, over-the-counter ibuprofen medications, such as Advil® and Motrin®, can help relieve pain and lessen your inflammation.
“These medications may not seem to work right away, but taking them consistently over the course of a few days will make a difference,” says Williams. “Be sure to read the package for instructions and warnings. Also, take these medications with food because they can be hard on the stomach.
Topical anesthetic creams, gels and patches, such as IcyHot® and BENGAY®, are also helpful home remedies. They produce cool and warm sensations and help relieve pain. Heat therapy with heating pads and warm gel packs can also be effective but only when paired with movement and stretching.
When you have back pain, it may be tempting to rest, but continued movement is really best for healing. Try to be as active as possible. The more you sit or rest, the more pain you will have.
When Should I See a Doctor?
When back pain is severe, a visit to the doctor is necessary. Some red flags to look for include:
- Loss of control of bladder or bowels
- Numbness in the thighs or legs
- Sexual dysfunction
- Pain that doesn’t decrease when lying down
You may also be at a higher risk for problems if you have a history of cancer or have experienced a fall.
In cases of intense back pain or more severe problems, your doctor may recommend muscle relaxants or a steroid injection to provide pain and inflammation relief. Physical therapy is also a tool used to strengthen and stretch muscles that play an important role in body mechanics and back support.
Exercises for a Better Back
Back pain is common, but it can usually be prevented with proper habits. Remember these tips for a healthier back:
- Maintain good posture – sit up straight with shoulders back.
- Bend with the knees, not with the hips.
- Avoid sudden twisting movements.
- Use a back brace for additional back support as necessary.
- Strengthen and stretch muscles (especially core muscles) often.
If you have questions about your back pain or how to have better back health, talk with your doctor.