How to Relieve Lower Back Pain
The miracle pill for how to relieve lower back pain is elusive.
Unfortunately, America’s long and frustrating search for the ultimate back pain relief is taking its toll on our time and money. It is estimated that the US spends approximately $90 billion a year on back pain – and this doesn’t even include the estimated $10 to $20 billion lost due to low productivity of sick workers.
Worse, the conventional methods of back pain treatment – namely, opioid painkillers and spinal surgery – are not only ineffective in most cases but also come with a lot of health risks.
Surprisingly, the same things that the medical community once looked down upon are now being recommended as first-line therapies for lower back pain.
Exercise, massage, yoga, and even meditation are some of the safest ways to relieve lower back pain and also the most effective, according to the latest research. Sadly, these non-traditional methods are yet to be covered by insurance companies. It might take a while before the insurance providers can adapt with the ever-changing guidelines for back pain treatment.
However, don’t fret because with the right guidance you can perform a do-it-yourself version of each method –all in the comfort of your own home.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
About 85 percent of patients experience what is known as “non-specific low back pain,” which means there’s no existing medical condition or spinal abnormality that may have caused the pain.
Although the source may be unknown, there are predisposing factors that make you more likely to experience lower back pain. These include:
- Poor posture
- Prolonged sitting or standing at work
- Wong body mechanics when lifting heavy objects
Back pain may also be triggered by anxiety, depression, boredom, and job dissatisfaction. For this reason, low back pain requires a multidisciplinary approach to address the biopsychosocial nature of the disorder adequately.
Non-specific low back pain can either be acute, which naturally subsides after a few weeks, or chronic, a persistent type that most doctors have been struggling to deal with. It’s only in rare instances when low back pain is caused by serious medical conditions, in which case surgeries and medications are more likely the preferred treatment methods.
Back pain cases that need immediate medical attention are those caused by fractures, infection, and tumor. Herniated disc causes lower back pain accompanied by numbness, pain, and weakness of the legs.
Another potentially debilitating cause of lower back pain is cauda equina syndrome, a condition characterized by weak bowel or bladder function.
When to Worry About Lower Back Pain?
Chronic back pain, whether non-specific or caused by an underlying medical condition, warrants the attention of a medical professional. It can be managed either by a primary care physician or specialists like a neurosurgeon if surgery is being considered.
As a rule of the thumb, seek medical attention if you experience any or all of the following symptoms (in addition to low back pain):
- Persistent back pain that doesn’t disappear even when you lie down.
- Feeling of weakness in one or both of the legs.
- Loss of bowel or bladder control (may be a sign of cauda equina syndrome).
- Sudden fever or weight loss.
Why Should You Avoid Medications When Managing Lower Back Pain?
In 2017, it is estimated that over 30,000 Americans will likely die from an opioid overdose. A recent study published in the journal, The BackLetter, also sheds light to the unreliability of current prescription medications that are supposed to treat low back pain.
In the said study, researchers found that patients who took opioids didn’t only fail to improve their condition but also experienced more pain than those who used anti-inflammatory drugs like acetaminophen.
Fortunately, the tide has turned with the recently released guidelines of the American College of Physicians.
Instead of prescription drugs, they now recommend nonpharmacologic methods such as exercise, tai chi, acupuncture, and yoga, among others as first-line therapies in managing lower back pain.
However, it doesn’t mean you can no longer take medications. As suggested by the same guidelines, if the non-drug therapies don’t work, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as Aspirin), taken in a regular dose, are the next best alternatives.