Understanding your condition
Back and neck pain arises, and is often attributed to a soft tissue injury to the spine. There are numerous small joints in the back that can be aggravated resulting in back pain, such as nerve root irritation, disc herniations, bone spurs, or scar formation, which may put pressure on the spinal nerves. Most spine conditions involve a combination of structures. Thus, it is important to identify and treat the various causes of your symptoms.
The natural progression of recovery from minor spine disorders or injury should resolve within 4-6 weeks if no further aggravation occurs during that time period. Most spine pain should become better with time. If the pain persists, a MRI scan may be recommended to help identity the problem.
For minor soreness, heat is a simple beneficial treatment. Heat increases the blood flow to the muscles, ligaments and tendons. The increase of blood flow can decrease muscle spasms and pain. Consider use of a heating pad, whirlpool, hot shower, bath, steam room or sauna to alleviate pain and to promote healing.
Anti-inflammatories are often prescribed for inflammation of muscles, ligaments, and nerve roots. They should be taken on a short-term basis, i.e. 4-6 weeks. Because potential long-term usage could damage your liver and kidneys, anti-inflammatories are generally not prescribed for long-term usage. Example: Advil, Celebrex, Lodine, Motrin, Naprosyn, Relafen, Medrol-Dose pack.
Muscle Relaxers are often prescribed to help decrease the muscle spasms as they occur. Recommended as short-term basis medication. Example: Flexeril, Robaxin, Skelaxin, Soma.
Pain-Killers are often prescribed to help decrease acute pain. Long-term use of prescribed narcotics is not recommended due to the strength and addictive nature of these medications. Short-term use of pain-killers is okay for 3-4 weeks to ease recovery and rehabilitation. Patients who need long-term narcotics and do not have a surgical indication may be referred to a pain management center. Example: Darvocet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin.
Refills - It is recommended that you always use the same pharmacy to insure your safety, and to minimize the risk of taking medications that may have interactions with each other.
Take control of your spinal condition. It is encouraged that appropriate eating habits, exercise and proper body mechanics are followed to strengthen your spine. The very best treatment for spinal pain is prevention, not pills, shots or surgery. Your body is getting older every day, and it is important to avoid activities that aggravate existing conditions. The body is designed to wear out. Use proper body mechanics in all of your activities of daily living. Pay attention to your body and make it strong. Most patients are their own best doctors.
Being overweight does nothing good for your back and it is a factor that you can control. Excess weight strongly contributes to lower back pain and to almost all spinal conditions. Get motivated, lose weight, and feel healthy and better about yourself.
It is important to remember to rest a few days after an injury. However one should not sit around and wait for the pain to completely subside, unless directed by your physician. Doing nothing may actually increase the pain because muscles and ligaments will become unconditioned. Brisk walking one or two miles per day is a low impact manner in which to achieve cardiovascular and strength training.
Quit smoking now! Spine patients who smoke have been clearly identified to have a lower pain threshold than patients who do not smoke. Typically, smokers have a less predictable surgery outcome because smoking increases healing time. Smokers also have higher complications including an increased risk of infection when surgery is indicated.
Good for short term treatment (4-6 week). Therapy helps decrease muscle and ligament pain in the short term. You must slowly work your way into active long-term physical therapy, such as joining a health club, and start working out yourself. You must strengthen the upper back to indirectly support the lower back.
Make exercise a habit. Exercise is important for your spine as well as your general health. Do not over do it at first. If you are unsure of how or where to begin, ask a physical trainer or physical therapist for a gradual exercise program. Some exercise is better than no exercise. Strength and flexibility are necessary for a healthy neck and back. Exercise at least three times per week. Make exercise fun and encourage your friends to join you. Do something for yourself and invest some time and effort in improving your body.
A healthy neck and back exercise program consists of 2 parts:
1. Cardiovascular - Treadmill, water aerobics, or recumbent bicycle for at least 20-30 minutes per session. You need to sweat and get the blood flowing.
2. Weight Lifting - Use light weights only (2, 5, 8, 10 pounds), with repetitions. 3 sets of 12 repetitions are recommended. Avoid use of heavy weights and do not strain yourself.
Often, injections are performed around the small joints in the spine (facet joints), nerve root, and the spinal canal itself (epidural injections). The amount of relief depends on what type of spinal condition is present. The injections consist of a combination of steroids, short and long-term anesthetics, and are utilized in an attempt to decrease pain in the hope of trying to avoid an operation.
Pain Centers offer specialists trained specifically to help patient deal with chronic pain. They provide a comprehensive treatment plan including the prescribing of medications, injections, psychological evaluations and occasional implantation of spinal cord stimulation.
Holistic medicine such as Acupuncture, Reflexology, Chiropractic adjustment, Bio-Magnets, and Yoga may give some temporary relief.
Surgery is always the last option, and performed only on clear and identifiable conditions as a solution to decrease pain. Numbness and tingling are not indications to operate because they are too unpredictable. Patients must have clear and realistic expectations of surgery, recovery-time, and maintenance of post-surgery health. As mentioned previously, muscles, ligaments, tendons, small joints in the spine, weight control, smoking, dedication to good back care, and the psychological profile of a person affect surgical results.