When to seek help for back pain
For many Americans, persistent back pain is a fact. When added to everyday demands, the pain can seem like the straw that broke, well, the camel’s back.
How can you cope? These simple strategies can help you manage the pain and get back to your life.
RX FOR EXERCISE
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Back pain affects eight out of 10 adults. Of course, serious pain brought on by trauma or injury should be examined by a doctor. But for pain that flares periodically or lingers over time, exercise can help.
“It’s important to get moving. Exercise will create the blood flow that delivers nutrients to your spine to help it heal,” says Kaiser Permanente senior wellness consultant Andrea Groth, MS. “Exercise also releases natural, pain-fighting chemicals called endorphins into your brain.” Exercise may not only help decrease back pain, but it also may speed recovery and prevent pain from flaring up in the future.
HOW TO ‘MOVE’ ON
Groth recommends this gentle road to recovery: Rest for a day or two and use ibuprofen and ice to calm inflammation. “Then, start with general movement and stretching,” Groth says. Here are additional strategies that might work for you:
– Ease into light exercise. “Try activities that you can control the intensity of and that don’t have a lot of impact, such as walking, easy biking, or swimming,” Groth says. Avoid exercises that involve lifting, twisting, or bending from the waist.
– Strengthen your core. The muscles that support your back are interconnected. Tight hamstrings, for example, will only aggravate back pain. “For the spine in particular, you need strong supporting muscles,” Groth says, noting that strong abdominal and gluteal muscles, hamstrings, and quadriceps are essential for the pain-free performance of everyday activities.
– Seek physical therapy. Learning exercises and stretches specifically designed to strengthen weak muscle groups can help you overcome pain.
– Explore alternative therapy. Acupuncture, massage, and chiropractic care may help reduce pain.
WHEN TO SEEK HELP
If pain prevents you from doing normal activities, or if it’s triggering depression or stress, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Additionally, sudden or severe symptoms such as pain, fever, chills, weight loss, or weakness should be reported to your doctor. Likewise, if it hurts to exercise, try to be specific about what that means. Sometimes exercise can be uncomfortable, triggering a dull aching or tightness. “But if pain is sharp, stabbing, or radiating to other areas of the body,” Groth says, “those are warning signs that you should see the doctor.”
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