When it comes to back pain, there can be some very polarizing opinions from the public and the medical community on what constitutes the “right” treatment for the pain. At one end of the spectrum, you have those quick to judge others for choosing a surgical treatment for a degenerative and painful spine condition based on their physician’s recommendations. Conversely, you have those quick to judge physicians and health care providers for prescribing what might seem like not “enough” treatment to address the pain. While I’ve written at length about the rationale for surgery in specific spine cases, I want to touch upon the notion of what truly is “enough” when it comes to less-invasive treatment recommendations.
The truth is this – as physicians, we want the most successful treatment for patients – one that will achieve the highest level of function and ability to easily perform tasks of daily life, while restoring each patient to long-term, pain-free living. And we want all of that to happen while exposing the patient to the least amount of risk. For those patients facing chronic back pain for the first time in their lives, some of these treatment recommendations may seem too simplistic. But I assure you, if you listen to your doctor and give them a shot, you might find the relief you need, no surgery required.
Lose Weight – Though it is easier said than done for many, this back pain treatment recommendation is one of the most successful and least risky options. Depending on your height, your spine was engineered to carry only a certain amount of weight. Going over that threshold, even by just 10 pounds, can elicit a string of adverse reactions in your spine, potentially leading to debilitating pain and severe injury. Start small. Begin shaving off calories here and there and start moving more than you usually do. The scale and your spine might begin seeing the benefits sooner than you expected.
Quit Smoking – Many clinical studies have shown a correlation between smoking and the development of lower back pain. The theory is that this phenomenon primarily concerns the vascular changes that occur when a person smokes. These changes can negatively affect the way the vertebral discs and spinal joints function. Bottom line – smoking is bad for your overall health, and it’s terrible for your back. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about programs to help you quit.
Move More – Some people who experience chronic back pain think because they are at a “normal” weight, that specific exercise treatments won’t help them find relief. Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, a strong core protects your spine. Consider this: if you’re slender, that doesn’t automatically mean your core is strong. Focus on strength-training exercises to support the abdominal, upper, and lower body muscles. Helping your body evenly distribute the everyday weight bearing activities you engage in will go a long way toward alleviating and preventing future spine trauma and injuries.
Stress Less – This might seem like one of those global recommendations from every doctor, but it deserves attention. Especially when it comes to your spine, tension can cause back muscles to seize up, eventually resulting in possibly persistent back pain. The causes of the tension may be many but learning effective ways of coping and relieving it can be all that you need for pain relief. Meditation, yoga, a long walk, and many other options are available to help you clear your mind and relieve your spine. Try just one. You might be surprised at how much it helps.
If you’ve got an upcoming back pain appointment with your doctor, please head into it with an open mind. If you’ve chosen a physician you believe has your health, safety, and best interests at heart, listen to what they say about treatment options. And by all means, when those recommendations are given, please don’t ignore them.