Back Pain: You Can Do It, Just Don’t Put Your Back Into It!

It turns out almost nine out of ten adults will suffer from back pain at some point in their lifetime. So if you hurt your back from long hours in high heels, a Groupon Pilates class, or from carrying your baby, today’s article may help you get “back” on your feet.

Although back pain is a common problem, particularly amongst women, acute back pain has many origins. Often times it can be attributed to obesity, weak abdominal muscles, injuries, or trauma.  Additionally, those with osteoporosis or decreased levels of vitamin D often suffer from back pain.

Most cases of pain will resolve on their own without much intervention from a physician or medications. Typically pain lasts for 2-6 weeks with complete resolution after this time.  In many cases, a minimal movement of twisting, bending, or heavy lifting can trigger an acute attack of pain. That means you don’t have to log an hour of Zumba at the gym, even unloading the dishwasher can trigger back pain if you’re not careful!

Most back pain is described as aching pain in the lower back and buttocks. Occasionally this pain may radiate down the legs as well. This is called sciatica or sciatic pain because the pain is caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve (a nerve that begins in the lower back and goes down the back of the legs). You may also feel occasional sharp or stabbing pain, particularly when you twist or bend. This may be due to inflamed muscles or irritation of nerves around the lower back.

There are a few symptoms that should never be taken lightly.  If you or someone you know develops back pain and weakness in their hips or legs this could be an emergency. Additionally, if any bowel or bladder incontinence or urinary retention is present you, should seek medical attention immediately before any permanent nerve damage is done. Finally, back pain with fever or back pain in any patients with cancer should always be considered an emergency.

When treating your pain, the best place to start is by using heat or cold packs in the area. Many people find relief from alternating both temperatures. Also try a medication like Ibuprofen, which is an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) that can decrease inflammation and help alleviate pain. Avoid bed rest! It may be tempting to sit in bed and watch re-runs of “Saved by the Bell” all day while you are recuperating, however many studies suggest that bed rest lengthens recovery time and may even lead to worsening injuries.  If you have not had relief or are experiencing worsening pain, visit your doctor. He/she may decide you need more time with the same treatment or consider a stronger medication or muscle relaxant. Don’t be alarmed if your doctor doesn’t order an x-ray.  A recent study showed that imaging studies like x-rays and MRI’s done for acute back pain are rarely abnormal and often create unnecessary costs and radiation for the patient.

Use good form: Make an effort to always bend from the knees and waist together rather than bending over only from the back.  As fun as it was to practice that “Bend and Snap” from Legally Blonde, you may want to tuck that skill away to keep you pain free.

Focus on strengthening your core muscles. Your abdominal muscles work together with the back muscles to anchor and support the spine. Working your core and maintaining good posture will also help reduce your pain and eliminate future injuries.

Give your High Heels a Break: High heels may look great, but often times a very high or thin heel can put a significant amount of pressure on the lower back. If your shoes are like this, consider wearing them for only a small period of time.  High heels can also cause women to lean forward to help re-distribute their weight, which can aggravate existing back injuries.

So the next time you’re at the gym, or rocking out to Carly Rae Jepsen’s latest hit, think about protecting your back, or you’ll be sitting on your couch waiting for your doctor to “call you..maybe?!”.

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