The vast majority of adults worldwide will have an issue with back pain to some degree at one point or another. Roughly one in every four Americans report experiencing a stint with low back pain. Depending on the cause, back pain can be anything from a minor nuisance to a serious health concern. Therefore, it is important to understand your back injury treatment options. Discover the causes, treatment options, and other concerns related to back injury and determine if at-home treatment is appropriate for you.
Back Injury – Quick Care or ER?
Most back pain is not cause for immediate concern or emergency care. However, if you experience one of the following, you should make a trip to the ER for an immediate evaluation:
Additionally, back pain that presents in conjunction with certain medical conditions may indicate a more serious concern. If you experience back pain and have any of the following health conditions, you should head to the ER immediately:
- Physical trauma, especially if you are an elderly individual.
- Immunosuppression, from prescribed medication or surgery.
- Intravenous drug use.
- Extended steroid use.
Diagnosing Back Pain
Back pain can be difficult to accurately diagnose because it is often a complex issue involving several factors. While more severe conditions are often easy to identify or rule out, such as a tumor, infection, or fracture, other concerns cause a great deal of controversy.
Even so, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis before determining whether back injury treatment at home or elsewhere is best for you. That said, achieving an accurate and thorough diagnosis typically involves different approaches. Most medical professionals utilize a diagnostic process that involves a combination of two to three steps to determine the underlying cause of pain. The process may include:
A Review of Your Medical History
Your physician will likely ask you a series of questions to try to pinpoint when, where, and how the pain started. Questions may include:
- When did the pain start?
- Where is the pain?
- Is it local or does it radiate anywhere?
- Can you describe the pain and how it feels?
- Are there any activities, positions, or treatments that make the pain better or worse?
Your doctor will also want to know if you have experienced back pain in the past. They may also ask if you had had any accidents or trauma that might have initiated the pain – recently or in the past. Also, your doctor will want to know if you have a history of cancer. Some cancers, such as breast and lung, metastasize (spread) to the lower back.
A Physical Exam
A physical examination is another important step in diagnosing back pain. This exam may involve assessments to test your nerve function and muscle strength in different parts of your legs or arms. Doctors will also want to evaluate pain in specific positions. This physical exam can often give your care provider a good idea of what type of back issue you may be experiencing. Key point is to rule out neurological deficits.
After conducting a review of your medical history and the physical exam, your practitioner may want to perform a diagnostic test. This way, the medical staff can confirm the suspected cause of your pain. Tests of this nature often include a CT or MRI scan. This level of testing is important if an issue such as a disc problem is suspected. An imaging text can provide a detailed image that includes the location and size of a herniation or damaged nerve roots.
The most commonly used tests are:
- X-rays to provide detail of the bone structures in the back. These images can be used to check for instability, fractures, and tumors.
- CT scans are essentially elaborate x-rays that detail cross sections of the body. Scans provided by CT deliver highly detailed bone information. It can diagnose specific conditions, such as spinal stenosis or a herniated disc.
- MRI scans are most effective for assessing specific conditions by detailing the disc and nerve roots. These imaging results can also be used to rule out concerns such as tumors or spinal infections. In most cases, before an MRI is done, the doctor has a relatively good idea of what the cause of the issue is. The scan is primarily used for planning of injections or surgery.
Back Injury Treatment
Once a diagnosis has been reached, a treatment plan is typically recommended. Unless the issue is more pervasive, at-home back injury treatment is often all that is required. Home treatment is effective for relieving issues related to swelling, stiffness, and localized pain. Common recommendations for at-home back injury treatment include:
- Returning to your normal activities and work as soon as possible.
- Avoiding bed rest as it can actually slow the healing process.
- Massaging the area to increase blood flow and relieve pain.
- Sitting in a seat/position that supports your lower back.
- Sleeping on your back or side with knees propped to relieve pain.
- Beginning to exercise gradually to strengthen your back muscles.
- Doing pelvic tilts to move the spine gently and stretch the lower back.
- Soaking in a warm sitz bath for 20 minutes 3 to 4 times a day.
- Sitting on a C-shaped pillow to remove pressure from the tailbone.
- Swimming to reduce the pressure on the back.
- Doing yoga to stretch and strengthen the back and core.
- More and more patients are using cupping therapy to relieve pain.
Some individuals also find relief from over-the-counter medications, such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Naproxen or Aspirin. It is important to consult your doctor before beginning any kind of drug regimen – prescription or otherwise.
Back Injury Treatment Duration/Recovery Time
If treated properly, back pain should subside in three to six weeks. This type of back pain is generally considered acute. While those weeks may still be painful, the pain should subside over time.
Remember, back pain typically gets gradually better with increased physical activity. Although it may seem counter-intuitive (and opposite of what you feel like doing), resting and not doing any activity actually can increase back pain or make it last much longer.
General Information about Back Pain
Back pain is extremely common. It is actually one of the most common reasons that individuals miss work in lieu of going to the doctor. Common symptoms of back pain include muscle ache, stabbing or shooting pain in the back, aching that radiates down the leg, and reduced flexibility or range of motion.
While there are several different causes of back pain, muscle or ligament strain due to lifting something heavy or other strenuous activity is most common. Other conditions that may be linked to back pain include bulging or ruptured discs, arthritis, skeletal irregularities, and osteoporosis.
Anyone can experience back pain. Research has yet to prove any specific indicators of the issue. However, several common factors may put you at more risk for developing issues including age, activity level, weight, disease, and smoking among others.
Back pain is a pervasive condition that impacts a large population of people. Fortunately, most back pain is short-lived and can be effectively treated at home. Even so, it is important to work with your doctor to rule out any progressive concerns and get a recommended method of treatment. For most individuals, however, at-home back injury treatment that involves gradual exercise, stretches, massage, and proper alignment is sufficient.