Back pain is a common problem plaguing millions of adults today. It is the most common cause of lost hours and productivity, and millions of dollars are lost every year as employees struggle to cope with this condition. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, around 12 to 33% of people will experience back pain at any time. Back pain doesn’t discriminate, and it can affect anyone regardless of gender or age. Moreover, your type of employment doesn’t exempt you from back pain as anyone, from an executive who spends hours in front of a computer to a blue-collar worker can experience it.
Most people may complain of back pain every once in a while, but for some, it’s a persistent problem that has to be dealt with on a daily basis. The NCBI states that in some studies, up to 23% of the world’s adults suffer from chronic back pain. This type of health condition not only limits everyday activities, but in some cases, it can be debilitating as it affects your ability to earn income for yourself and your family. If you’re currently experiencing back pain, you may be wondering if it’ll go away on its own eventually, or if it has evolved into a chronic condition. Here’s how to differentiate between temporary back pain and chronic issues, and ways to improve your back health.
What Causes Temporary Back Pain?
For people who have never had back pain in their entire life, having to suddenly deal with it can be a cause for concern. However, the good news is that most back pain is temporary and can be easily improved. For instance, having back pain during pregnancy is a common occurrence since the ligaments in the body stretch and soften to prepare for labor. This strains the pelvis and lower back, leading to back pain. Fortunately, the pain usually goes away after the baby is born.
Having a sedentary lifestyle can also cause short-term back pain. Prolonged periods of inactivity can lead to weakened muscles in the back and abdomen, causing pain in the lower and upper back. Also, if you’re constantly stressed, it’s likely that you’re dealing with temporary back pain. Stress can cause muscle tension in the back, which can lead to stiffness and pain in this area. Moreover, your blood vessels may constrict when you’re stressed, and this reduces blood flow to your back muscles which can cause pain.
Signs of Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain symptoms come on gradually, so most people barely feel anything at first. But over time, you’ll feel a dull and constant ache or a sharp, stabbing pain that lasts for weeks. According to Dr. Brandon Claflin of Oklahoma Spine & Pain Management, several factors could put people at risk of chronic back pain, especially age. Chronic low back pain, in particular, is more common in older adults aged 60 years or over, and recent studies reveal that 21% to 68% of individuals 60 years or older had chronic low back pain in the last 12 months.
Being overweight can also result in chronic back pain since excess weight can put stress on the back. What’s more, bad habits such as constant slouching and poor posture, or incorrect lifting techniques are often associated with chronic back pain.
Traumatic events such as trips, falls, and car accidents can injure the spine and result in frequent pain flare-ups. Meanwhile, spine conditions such as disk damage, herniated disk, or spinal stenosis can also cause chronic pain, and in cases like these, you may need to seek medical treatment to alleviate pain.
Relieving Temporary Pain
Short-term back pain may not be as serious as chronic back pain, but having an aching back and dealing with discomfort, even for just a day or two, can be very frustrating. But there are several things that you can do to be more comfortable and reduce pain. If you’re pregnant and dealing with lower back pain, make sure to do some sort of moderate physical activity, such as walking or swimming, to ease stiffness. Sleep on your side and practice good posture to prevent pain from getting worse.
For those experiencing back pain due to stress, consider stress-relief techniques, which not only benefit your mental health but can also help to soothe and relax your body. Mindful activities such as yoga and meditation can ease stress, and there is evidence that shows that these can reduce pain too. Finding ways to cope with stress in a positive way can also help reduce temporary back pain, so try creating art, following along to a dance tutorial online, or any other enjoyable activity that fosters creativity.
Meanwhile, exercising can strengthen your back muscles and alleviate temporary back pain. To avoid straining your back, choose low-impact workouts like biking, walking, or water aerobics. You may also want to consider elliptical training, Pilates, or core-strengthening exercises to relieve back pain.
Managing Chronic Back Pain
For some spine problems like a herniated disk, degenerative disk disease, or stenosis, doctors may recommend undergoing surgery to correct the condition and relieve chronic back pain. However, there are less invasive options that are available if you are feeling chronic pain in the thoracic, cervical, or lumbosacral spine. Dr. Claflin says that spinal injections can be a good solution to manage chronic back pain, so see your doctor and ask if you’re a good candidate for this type of treatment.
You may also be advised to take some over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for short-term treatment of chronic back pain. However, if pain persists and doesn’t subside after taking OTC medicine, your primary healthcare provider may prescribe some pain muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine to ease muscle spasms, or corticosteroids to control inflammation.
Living a healthy and active lifestyle can also help those who are dealing with chronic back pain. Make sure to exercise, eat a healthy diet, and practice good posture at all times to reduce severe pain.
Temporary back pain and chronic back pain vastly differ from each other, but the good news is that both can be treated or managed so you can have a good quality of life. If you’re experiencing chronic back pain, make sure to consult your doctor to know the best treatment option that’s right for you.