Chronic Back Pain | Facts and Tips That Will Make You Feel Better
Chronic back pain impacts millions every year
Impacting millions of people, men and women are both equally affected by back pain. Although acute back pain can increase as you get older, it can strike regardless of age. Luckily, the majority of us will get better without any medical intervention. The risk of acute or chronic periods of back pain shouldn't cause us to panic, though. Lower back pain is a natural part of our human physiology. The combination of bones, ligaments, and nerves in our back can be quite sensitive, but they do recover.
Some types of pain only show when we sit still; for others, it can be when they walk. It only takes something as simple as bending down to greet the kids, and suddenly a sharp, shooting pain jolts through your lower back. In some cases, this pain can also extend down to the legs.
The old-fashioned advice of resting to treat back pain is just that, out of date. Instead, movement, a positive outlook, and resuming non-intensive regular exercise are the best ways to beat acute back pain and prevent it from becoming chronic.
Before we examine several chronic back pain “red flags”—signs that further investigation is required—it is always best to know what type of pain you are dealing with.
Lower back pain can be split into two major categories:
Radiating through your spine, pain usually ends up focussing on the lower area of your back and around the hips. Back-dominant pain is the one most likely to cause you issues when you bend. Getting up off the sofa or out of the car can both be difficult and painful for those suffering from back-dominant pain. The biggest problem with back-dominant pain is it typically occurs out of the blue. Symptoms also include small spasms, although they do recede quickly.
This type of pain can be more serve, both in frequency and intensity. The reason pain travels down the leg, rather than staying focussed on the back, has to do with our nerves. To help us coordinate movement, nerves travel through our legs and up the lower back before being protected by the spinal column. Commonly referred to as sciatica, leg-dominant pain can indicate damage to the discs in our back. By pinching the nerves connected to our legs, we feel the pain all the way down to our feet. With cases of sciatica, resting or taking the weight off your legs can help momentarily.
Most of the time, simple changes in lifestyle can eradicate back pain
With both types of pain, most cases subside after a few weeks. Even those who don’t fall into the category of chronic pain still see an improvement in symptoms over time. Before heading straight to the doctor or reaching out for prescription pain medication, lifestyle habits can have a big impact, alleviating back pain and potentially preventing it from becoming chronic.
Three critical aspects can support a reduction in lower back pain: mental attitude, movement, and diet or supplements that reduce inflammation.
It all starts with a positive attitude—a mental willingness to not let back pain ruin our plans or our physical capability. Acute back pain can quickly become chronic if we think of it as a terminal disease rather than a treatable condition. The desire to stay in good health and resume as many normal activities as possible will prove crucial in reducing the intensity and frequency of back pain. It all revolves around taking an active approach, “owning” the pain rather than being passive and believing treatment alone will solve it.
Bed rest is out, and movement is in. Be sure to stay within the realms of what is possible for your specific condition. However, even if it is only a short walk up and down the stairs every day, the movement of muscles will significantly aid recovery in most cases. Our bodies, and especially our backs, are explicitly designed for mobility.
The last step, the use of anti-inflammatories or over the counter painkillers, should be seen as a support to the previous two guidelines. While they may mitigate enough of the pain to get you up and on your feet, alone they will not prevent back pain from occurring. This is often where people go wrong—thinking a few painkillers and some rest will make the pain go away. The end result is quite the opposite.
The red flags of chronic back pain
Should symptoms persist, or become worse, there are several “red flags” to look out for. If any of these signs appear, it is best to seek medical advice. The back pain may in fact be a precursor to a more severe condition.
Numbness around the groin or any change in your usual bowel control are some of the first signs that you may need further examination. If your back pain occurs in conjunction with a persistent fever, illness, or weight loss, it may point to infection as the cause of your pain rather than an issue with specific muscles or discs. Finally, if the pain is never-ending, persisting over weeks with little respite despite physical activity and anti-inflammatories, then it is advisable to seek medical attention. A CT scan or X-ray may be necessary to diagnose the issue.
Focus on staying active and having a can-do attitude
You know your own body better than anyone. If something doesn't feel right, then you should always seek advice from a medical professional. However, in roughly 90% of cases, those with acute back pain get better within a few weeks. By adopting a few simple lifestyle principles, the risk of pain becoming chronic can be significantly reduced. Other activities like seeing a chiropractor, yoga, or Pilates can also support a greater resilience to the development of chronic back pain.