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Man wakes up with sore lower back.

Understanding Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common conditions that afflicts adults. In fact, experts estimate that 80 to 100 percent of adult Americans will have at least one severe episode of low back pain in their lives.

To some degree, back pain is a normal process of aging. Like gray hairs appearing on our head, our spine will age, and some discomfort will come along with it. However, it’s important to understand the difference between common pain and something more serious—as well as what kinds of treatments can get you back on your feet.

Common Complaints

A low back ache or muscle spasm brought about by heavy activity, by periods of immobility such as long drives, or upon waking in the morning, is typical of functional arthritic low back pain. Severe flare-ups can cause painful, rigid spasms and seemingly uncontrollable pain. The incidence of this type of back pain increases with age and if you have arthritis. Treatments such as those outlined in the next section usually ease the pain within one to two weeks. But watch for red flags including:

  • Fever or chills
  • Pain that worsens at night or with rest
  • Neurologic symptoms such as radiating arm or leg pain, bladder incontinence, or paralysis

If you have any of these symptoms, or if pain doesn’t resolve in a few weeks, call your doctor.

Treatments to Try

Exercise.

You may have heard that “motion is lotion” for bones and joints. Evidence shows that activities such as physical therapy and yoga help strengthen the back and spine.

Weight loss.

Studies estimate that an extra pound of body weight loads the spine by 4 to 8 pounds. That means losing 10 pounds of excess weight might unload 40 to 80 pounds of pressure from your spine.

Heat and ice.

Both are effective, so you can choose whichever works best for you.

Medication.

Inflammation plays a large role in back pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen work by blocking the biochemical signals of pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids are a more powerful anti-inflammatory medication but can cause more side effects. Other medications might include muscle relaxers or nerve stabilizers.

Chiropractic care and acupuncture.

These are widely accepted treatments that have been shown to benefit many people. It’s wise to talk with your primary care provider before beginning this treatment and discuss a referral. 

If your back is acting up, know that you don’t have to live with the pain. Talk with your doctor about treatment options that will get you back to your regular routine.

We’ve Got Your Back
The new Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness provides an integrated, team-based approach to treating spine disorders. A wide range of treatments are offered, from minimally invasive techniques to spinal deformity surgery.

Dr. Child is a Board-certified orthopedic surgeon with the Tahoe Orthopedics & Sports Medicine physician group, practicing at Barton Health’s offices in South Lake Tahoe, Incline Village and Carson City. To learn more about expert orthopedic spine care treatments available through Barton Health, call 530.543.5554 or visit BartonOrthopedicsAndWellness.com.