Preventing Back Pain
About 80% of adults will suffer significant low back pain at some time in their lives due to an injury at work, at home or at play. Following these life choices can help you minimize your chance of suffering back pain or injury.
- Learn good posture. Slouching strains the lower back. At work, be sure your chair and working surfaces support your back and encourage good posture.
- Use proper lifting techniques. Take your time, bend at the knees, don’t twist your body, move close to the surface on which you will be placing the object, and use assistive devices for heavy objects whenever possible.
- If you smoke, stop. Smoking has been linked to low bone density, chronic low back pain (especially in smokers with chronic coughs), disc damage, and poor healing.
- Exercise regularly. Strengthening and conditioning exercises keep the muscles of the back strong, flexible and less prone to injury.
- Eat right. Good nutrition keeps your spine healthy and can reduce chronic pain or disability if you suffer from a spine condition.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight, especially around the midsection, puts a strain on the back muscles as well as the entire lower body.
- Stay positive. Studies have shown that people who are happy with their jobs and home life are less likely to experience back pain and recover faster than people who are unhappy.
Common Back Pain Medications
Many kinds of pain medications can be used to reduce back pain, from over-the-counter drugs to powerful opioids. Some common types of back pain medications include:
- Non-prescription medications such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, e.g. ibuprofen and naproxen) are often helpful in relieving mild to moderate low back pain. They may be taken alone or in combination (always speak with Dr. Buttar before taking any medications).
- For severe acute or post-operative pain, narcotics may be necessary. They include codeine (Tylenol #3), propoxyphene (Darvocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Percocet, Oxycontin). These drugs can be very effective, but they also have several risks and side effects, and the body builds a tolerance to them quickly; therefore, they are generally only prescribed for short periods of time (usually less than two weeks).
- Ultram (tramadol) is a pain reliever used for moderate to moderately severe low back pain, whether it is acute, chronic, post-operative or intermittent. Its strength lies between acetaminophen and narcotics. Although it is a narcotic, Ultram is not addictive, and the body does not build up a tolerance to it.
- Muscle relaxants can help relieve low back pain associated with muscle spasms. Common muscle relaxants include carisoprodol (Soma), cyclodenzaprine (Flexeril) and diazepam (Valium).
- Oral steroids may be given for a short time (generally one to two weeks) to relieve low back pain. Steroids work by reducing inflammation (swelling). There are few complications unless they are used long-term or by people with diabetes or infections.
The type of medication, or combination of medications, Dr. Buttar recommends for you will depend on the strength and cause of your pain, the length of time it has afflicted you, your response to other medications in the past, any other medications you may be taking, whether you have recently had or will have surgery, whether the pain is getting worse or better, whether you are suffering from additional problems such as insomnia or depression, and other factors.
Back pain and low back pain can often be alleviated and even prevented with a few simple exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back, stomach, hips and thighs. Activities such as running, walking, swimming and bicycling are excellent ways to keep these muscles strong and flexible. There are also numerous stretching and strengthening exercises that condition these muscle groups, including wall slides, leg raises and sit-ups. Talk with your doctor about which activities are best for you. Whatever fitness regimen you choose, it is important to start out slowly if you have not been active in a long time, and to stretch thoroughly before and after exercising to prevent injury.