By Kim Schworm Acosta for Oral Care And Health Daily
A whopping eight out of 10 people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. And when it strikes, all you want to do is stop the hurting and fast.
But that urge for quick answers and results could lead to a barrage of unhelpful tests and invasive treatments that don’t provide long-term relief, says Dr. Roger Chou, a physician and associate professor of internal medicine at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland, who co-wrote the recent American Pain Society’s guidelines on diagnosing and treating low-back pain.
Find out what you should do instead:
Your first instinct: Call the doctor!
Your best bet: Stay home.
"The vast majority of people with back pain don’t need to see a doctor" says Chou. However, do call your primary physician ASAP if you have any of the following:
- Foot drag, which could be a sign of a neurological problem
- Difficulty urinating, which could signal possible compression at the tail of the spinal cord
- Fever, a sign of infection
- A history of cancer
Your first instinct: Put it on ice.
Your best bet: Apply heat.
There's strong evidence that heat alleviates back pain. "Most people think ice is best, but there are very few studies supporting that," says Chou. Heating pads, hot gel packs and even hot baths can help.
Your first instinct: Vicodin, please!
Your best bet: Take OTC pain relievers.
Narcotics and muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness and dry mouth and possibly addiction, so they shouldn’t be your first line of defense, says Chou. Pop acetaminophen or ibuprofen as directed on the bottle both over-the-counter drugs are proven ways to relieve back pain.
Your first instinct: Lie down for a few days.
Your best bet: Do normal activities.
It seems logical that taking to your bed would give your back muscles some much-needed rest, but studies show that people who lie down take longer to recover. Instead, maintain your normal level of activity as much as possible, says Chou.
If you haven’t gotten better in three to four weeks or your pain is still so severe after a week that you’re unable to work, call your doctor: You may need some stronger pain medication in the short term while your body recovers. You might also consider alternative therapies that have been shown to work well in some patients: massage, spinal manipulation, acupuncture and a process called cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps identify and correct mistaken assumptions about your pain.
Kim Schworm Acosta is the managing editor of Oral Care and Health Daily
(Health24, November 2010)