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Alleviate and Avoid Back Pain with These 5 Easy Tips

“I have a bad back.” Haven’t you heard this complaint many times, or said it yourself?

Back pain, especially lower back pain, is one of the most common forms of joint pain that, most of the time, goes away on its own.

“50% to 70% of people get better within four weeks, and 90% improve at six weeks,” according to Michael Ashburn, MD, MPH, Director of Pain Medicine at Penn Medicine. “However, it is important to see a physician for an initial evaluation, especially if experiencing numbness, weakness, or loss of bowel or bladder control. The early goals of treatment are simply to control pain and maintain normal function.”

Dr. Ashburn emphasizes the importance of considering various risk factors, such as weight, level of activity and smoking, and to make life changes if needed.

Check out the following tips to alleviate or prevent back pain

1. Get moving 

According to Dr. Ashburn, obesity, physical inactivity, and even mental illness, especially depression, can increase your chances of developing back pain. “Maintaining a normal weight or losing weight if you are heavy is very important in avoiding and treating back pain. Regular cardiovascular exercise is a must; this includes walking, running, swimming, biking, and even proper strength training.”

2. Improve posture and sleep

Poor posture can worsen back pain, so stop slouching. Or try sitting with a pillow behind your back. Sleeping can also be tough with back pain, leading to less sleep, causing more pain: a vicious cycle. A poor sleeping position can also aggravate your back. . If sleeping on your back or on your side, try putting a pillow between your knees for less strain on your back.

3. Take pain medication

Common over-the-counter pain relievers can relieve symptoms. If pain is extreme, your doctor may recommend prescription pain medication or muscle relaxants. But beware: some prescription pain relievers can become highly addictive. Always inform your physician of all current medications.

4. Try some hands-on therapy

According to WebMD, a recent study found that a weekly massage for 10 weeks lessened back pain and improved functioning in those with chronic pain. Spinal manipulation is another hands-on method consisting of various exercises to adjust the spine and restore mobility.

5. Use ice and heat

Apply ice to your back for 20 minutes, several times a day, to relieve painful inflammation. After a few days, switch to a heating pad to soothe muscles. A warm bath can also relax you, which, in turn, can lessen pain.

If pain persists, further treatment measures should be taken, such as physical therapy, nerve stimulation or spinal injections. Surgery is recommended for patients with particular complications. “Surgery can be very effective for patients experiencing numbness or weakness that does not go away with physical therapy and injections,” Dr. Ashburn said.

Although some may still inquire about back braces and belts, Dr. Ashburn said they are things of the past. “While a brace might be very important immediately following surgery, it is very rare that it will be helpful if used for a long period of time.”

Before deciding which route to go, always consult your physician to find what is right for your needs. Then get on the road to living pain-free.

Penn Medicine’s brand-new, state-of-the-art Musculoskeletal Center—which conveniently brings together multiple medical specialties—is a team of doctors, nurses, and physical therapists who take a whole-body approach to diagnosing and treating joints, muscles, and bones. Seek medical care at Penn’s Musculoskeletal Center for advanced treatment in orthopaedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, pain medicine, and rheumatology. Visit www.PennMedicine.org/MSK, or call 215-615-2576.