Back pain affects as many as 31 million Americans. In many cases, the pain is due to degenerative changes, muscle pain and stiffness or lack of muscle strength – surgery is not an option in many of these cases. Nor is surgery a cure-all, as some patients continue to have back pain after surgery. Your spine health
affects you in many ways. In addition to chronic pain, you may develop depression or insomnia. These factors may tempt you to use pain medications, but that may not be the best choice for a number of reasons.
Pain medications have side effects. They may cause constipation, gastrointestinal disturbances, dry mouth, nausea or make you drowsy. They can affect your coordination as well, and may make it unsafe for you to drive or impair your ability to think clearly. These problems are magnified if you take more than one pain medication, especially narcotics, and if you mix them with sleeping medications, muscle relaxers or alcohol. Some people are at risk of addiction if they take narcotic pain medications over a period of time. There are other strategies to deal with back pain and improve your spine health
Good health begins with the basics: a nutritious diet, a regular exercise program and adequate sleep. Chronic back pain can affect both your ability to exercise and your ability to get a good night’s rest. However, exercise can also help strengthen and stretch muscles to better support your back and loosen muscles that may be causing pain simply because they are too tight. In particular, core strengthening exercises, which are designed to work the muscles of the abdomen, trunk, buttocks and spine, can decrease back pain that results from inadequate spinal support. Consult a physical therapist, personal trainer or other exercise professional for a core exercise program. Aerobic exercise also helps chronic pain in many cases by improving circulation – a brisk 30-minute walk once a day may make a big difference in the way you feel.
In addition to pain medications, there are medical therapies that can reduce back pain. Among these are traction, therapeutic massage, ultrasound, joint injections and blocks, epidural steroids and spinal cord stimulation. Traction can decrease the pressure on the spongy discs between each vertebra in the back; in some cases, traction can be applied at home. Therapeutic massage helps loosen tense muscles. Ultrasound is used to apply deep heat to the tissue. Joint injections and blocks involve the use of a local anesthetic agent such as xylocaine injected near or into a nerve or joint to numb the area and reduce pain. Epidural steroids are injected into the area of the spinal cord to help relieve inflammation and reduce pain. Spinal cord stimulation affects both muscle and nerve cells and can help decrease both swelling and pain.
Chronic back pain affects your whole life, not just your spine. Pain medication doesn’t solve the problem, it simply dulls the pain. Take charge of your health and try some other strategies to relieve or decrease your pain. You may be able to stop taking medication or at least cut way back. Talk to your doctor about other ways to manage back pain than by simply taking medication.