Take a moment, wherever you are, and sit (or stand) up straight. How is your back feeling? Does it hurt to adjust your posture? Is one area of your back more sore than another? If your answers sound an alarm, pose a new comfort check: Should I see a physician for back pain?
Back pain causes more disability than any other condition. According to the CDC, nearly 40 percent of U.S. adults reported back pain in the last three months. It was reported as the most common source of body region aches, beating out limb and head pain. If you are a back pain sufferer, you know how immobilizing it can be. Back pain causes more disability than any other condition.
What causes back pain?
Unfortunately, your back pain could have many causes. It could be as simple as muscle strains or as complex as infection, bone fractures, or degenerative conditions. The difference between causes can be hard to identify.
“Cases can vary a lot, from acute mild back pain to chronic debilitating pain,” said Dr. Kevin KH Chow, Medical Director of Neurosurgery at Good Samaritan Medical Center. “I see patients with back pain every clinic. It’s definitely a common problem!”
What treats back pain?
Thankfully, this common problem has resulted in common treatments. The American College of Physicians (ACP) recommends three treatment levels for low back pain.
- Minor/medium back pain
- For milder cases, ACP recommends using superficial heat pads, massages, acupuncture, and spinal manipulation. This is also where over-the-counter pain relievers, like NSAIDs, will be handy.
- Chronic back pain without medicine
- Before finding pharmacologic solutions, those with chronic back pain should try exercise, rehabilitation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and various therapy treatments.
- Chronic back pain with medicine
- When approaching back pain with medication, try NSAIDs first. If that doesn't work, ask your doctor how to best manage the pain. Depending on your case's severity, your doctor may prescribe more potent painkillers or opiates.
When should I see a doctor for back pain?
When back pain couples with a ‘red flag’ symptom, it's time to seek treatment. These include history of trauma, constant or severe pain, numbness and weakness of extremities, unexplained weight loss, and bowel or bladder control issues. If any sound familiar, get a spine surgeon’s expert opinion ASAP.
“Red flag symptoms are often an indicator that there’s some sort of structural problem or ongoing neurologic injury that won’t get better with conservative management,” said Dr. Chow. “In those cases, surgery may be needed.”