Help for your aching back

Date Published: 
May 9, 2014

“Oh, my aching back.” How many times have you or someone you know uttered that old expression? Back pain is terrible. It limits your mobility, impacting typical daily activities, and it can really decrease your quality of life. From something as simple as putting on a pair of shoes to picking up a bag of groceries, back pain can make any task frustrating and painful. It’s really sad how many people struggle with depression from dealing with the impact of these physical limitations and pain.

If you suffer from back pain, have you dealt with it the right way? Are you sure you know what’s causing it? The fact is there are many causes of back pain, so you need to know what you’re dealing with in order to get relief.

One of the most prevalent causes of back pain is osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine or spinal arthritis. It’s also known as spondylosis. It’s caused when problems in the bones or discs in your back put pressure on or pinch the spinal cord or nerve roots.

Too many people think they know what’s causing their back pain and they don’t see a doctor. Don’t fall into that trap. Self-diagnosis can be a dangerous road to travel. There is no such thing as one-size-fits-all, because there are many causes and symptoms of back problems that can vary and occur anywhere along the spine.

When it comes to OA, one of the best known causes is from the wear and tear on the spine that occurs over time or from repetitive motion. While it’s true that OA is most common in people over 50, it also affects a large number of younger people who have had a sports injury, an accident or a work-related injury. People who are overweight are susceptible to OA, because those extra pounds cause additional wear and tear on the spine.

This is a cautionary tale. Some of these symptoms can be the result of other problems, too, so it takes an experienced medical professional to correctly diagnosis your situation. If you’re having back pain, you might have OA. Only a doctor can tell for sure, but it helps if you know the telltale signs of an arthritic back, how it’s diagnosed and what treatment options are available to help you get relief.

Do you find that when you stand your pain gets worse? When you lean forward, do you get some relief from that pain? Do you start your day with a limited range of motion and stiffness that goes away or eases as the day goes on?

These are just some of the symptoms of OA, but others can include back pain that radiates into the lower extremities, with weakness in your legs. Some people experience a loss of bladder and bowel control and, if this is one of your symptoms, this is an emergency. It typically means there is severe pressure on the nerves in your lower back and requires immediate medical care.

The other extreme is that you may be having some back problems that are limiting your activities, but you’re not experiencing pain. That’s not unusual with OA, because it progresses over time and, initially, you might not feel the pain that comes with progression of the problem.

About 80 percent of adults will struggle with back pain during their lifetime, and you don’t want to suffer unnecessarily or spend a fortune and get no results. Relief from your back problem and pain begins with a medical professional who can diagnosis your particular issue and devise a customized treatment plan specifically for your situation.

Expect your doctor to explore your medical history and perform a thorough exam to start creating a clear picture. Then, don’t be surprised if you’re sent for an X-ray. Many doctors say that, for 95 percent of us, a simple X-ray can detect degenerative changes in the spine from OA. In some cases, however, an MRI can be needed and, for some folks, blood tests can be ordered to eliminate the possibility of other diseases.

If your diagnosis is OA, your doctor will work with you to create an action plan aimed at relieving the pain and increasing your ability to function. The first part of the plan may start with rest and may also include medication, such as an anti-inflammatory, to give you some initial relief from the horrible pain.

The next step usually involves physical therapy. Your physical therapist will work with you to strengthen the muscles that support your back, as well as work on your individual problem areas to increase range of motion and let you return to doing what you enjoy best.

Your physical therapist may also work with you to create a regular exercise program to allow you to maintain and build on your new found flexibility and continue to strengthen your overall physical capabilities to help your back. If weight is contributing to your problem, some physical therapists can help you with that, too.

It’s all about getting the right components assembled in a comprehensive program, so they effectively work together to give you maximum results. One caveat, here: In some situations, surgery might be required — but for most people, a conservative treatment plan that involves the steps we’ve been talking about will help you tremendously.

Anyone who has ever experienced any kind of back pain knows how excruciating it can be and how it disrupts your life. In 2005 alone, the Journal of the American Medical Association said, Americans spent $85.9 billion looking for relief. Save yourself that ongoing pain and protect your wallet with this common-sense approach to getting your life back.

Bob Cairo is a licensed physical therapist at Tidewater Physical Therapy. He can be reached by calling (302) 537-7260.