Jennine Brogan, APRN
Almost everyone has experienced back pain at some point in their lives.
Back pain can range from the very mild to quite severe. Depending on the
type and severity it can radiate into the hips or buttocks, down the legs
and to the feet. Low back pain can last anywhere from minutes to days,
weeks, years, and even decades. Acute back pain is short lived and resolves
in less than a month. Chronic back pain persists over time. It may be
continuous and essentially unchanged or intermittent in type and presenting
with episodic exacerbations.
When it comes to back pain there is certainly a great deal of variation
in symptoms, presentation, and progression of the problem. Causes vary
widely and may be related to a genetic predisposition and environmental
factors such as work history and accidental injury. This article will
only attempt to describe the basic and common symptoms.
Most mild back pain involves at least one of the following symptoms, an
uncomfortable muscle ache, stiffness with movement, and back spasms. It
is usually relieved with rest, light stretching, topical heat or ice,
topical rubs, and a little time. Mild back pain may be brought on by a
day of working in the garden, house cleaning, a long drive in the car,
or any other activity which is slightly more strenuous than you are accustomed
too. Even a persistent cough, untimely sneeze, or awkward twisting motion
may be enough to stress or strain the muscles in your back. The good news
is most mild back pain is temporary and resolves with limited disruption
of your life and activities.
Moderate back pain is a bit more painful and longer in duration. Moderate
back pain is associated with similar symptoms but a greater intensity.
The back muscles may spasm and tighten resulting in a sharp and gripping
pain. Pain can radiate to the hips, buttocks, and legs. Symptoms may last
several days to several weeks before you are able to completely resume
your normal activities. Moderate back pain is often associated with previous
episodes of back pain or past injury. The symptoms may require the addition
of common over the counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen
or naproxen for a day or two. Muscle relaxants may be prescribed by your
provider for a short time.
Severe back pain presents as much more intense. Most activities come to
a screeching halt. It can be acute or chronic. Examples of acute injuries
include things like a bad fall, a car accident, or lifting a heavy piano.
Chronic symptoms persist and may be the result of an acute injury or simmer
over time without a specific cause. Chronic mild or moderate back pain
can progress with time and evolve into something more severe. Even severe
symptoms can resolve or require medical intervention. Treatment is based
on the underlying cause.
When to seek medical advice or treatment is a question a lot of people
have and while we cannot address every circumstance or scenario, here
are a few guidelines. First, if you lose bowel or bladder function you
should be seen right away as this can be a sign of a medical emergency
and requires immediate workup in the emergency department. Always use
common sense and if you aren't sure about something ask your provider.
If you feel something isn't right, seek medical advice. You should
be seen and evaluated if you are having weakness in your back or legs,
have a loss of function, or cannot sit or stand. You should be seen if
your symptoms are severe or worsening and have not responded to time and
rest. Start with your primary care provider who may refer you for further
work up or recommend medication or physical therapy.
We have all heard the saying; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound
of cure. Well prevention is always the preferred treatment and a lot of
back pain and injuries can be avoided. Some of the things you can do to
help include maintaining a healthy body weight. When we carry extra weight
around our midsection the result is an exaggerated curve in the lower
back which affects the joints, nerves, and muscles. Daily stretching helps
with flexibility and core strengthening. Both are important for balance,
movement, and muscle strength. You are less likely to fall if you have
good core strength and flexibility. Yoga and walking are both great for
everyone from the beginner to the advanced. Just start from where you are.
Join us at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital for a free Cholesterol Screening
and Health Fair on Saturday, May 9, 2015 from 7:00am to Noon. For more
information visit www.mdmh.org.
Questions and or comments regarding this week's health column please
contact Jennine Brogan, APRN at Rocky Mountain Neurosurgery Center, 1190
Westwood Drive, Hamilton, MT 59840. Working together to build a healthier