Living with back pain - or not - Advanced Physical Medicine
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Living with back pain – or not

Back pain; you can’t live with it and you can’t, erm, live with it.  A lot of us do though.  In fact, the majority of people will experience some form of back pain at some point in their lives; often on many different occasions.  For the unlucky few (well, unlucky quite a lot) pain can be long term and chronic.  Arthritis is a common cause of long term back and joint pain and sciatica is also a well-known form of nerve pain.  The latter is particularly common during and after pregnancy but can be the result of an injury to the back from a large number of causes. 

Symptoms and causes

Often described as a tension or stiffness back pain is commonly the result of annoyingly simple causes; sitting incorrectly, lifting badly, stretching, bending and twisting.  All of these particular risks are things we encounter most days on several occasions, which explains why back pain is such a common issue for so many people.  Ultimately it’s one of those occupational hazards of being human.  Generally, the lower back is the focus for a whole range of aches and pains and most back pain is felt at the lower end of the spine.  Though robust, and designed to perfection over the millennia, our spines have a lot to put up with.  In most cases they spend every waking minute keeping us in an upright position and, although well adapted to this, they can be vulnerable to the occasional injury.  Even a minor back pain can be unpleasant and many back problems can take up to twelve weeks to completely recover. 

Common Treatments

Although debilitating, most cases of back pain will clear up without major medical intervention.  Treating back pain is normally straightforward and everyday painkillers will have a swift result in reducing and relieving the pain.  The best advice is to stay active and try to continue as normal.  Bed rest, although often prescribed in the past, is about the worst thing you can do to treat normal back pain.  This will reduce the strength in the tendons and ligaments that support your back, making the recovery time longer and potentially making the problem worse. 

  • Some people respond well to hot or cold compression treatments which can reduce the tension in the muscles around the back and also alleviate the pain.  Compression packs can be bought from a chemist although most doctors will point out that for cold compression a bag of frozen peas will do the trick! 
  • Physiotherapy can make a considerable difference for those suffering with back pain.  This aims to strengthen the muscles and tendons that support the back and also helps to improve posture and reduce stress on the spine.  This should help to alleviate the symptoms and should, hopefully, help to stop further problems in the future.  Simple lifestyle changes such as losing a little weight or remembering to sit and lift properly will also help to limit repeat occurrences.
  • TENS machines have been shown to reduce pain for a wide range of conditions, including back and neck pain.  For those who have pain resulting from sports injuries, or simple posture related problems, they can provide a healthy, non-medication route to pain relief.  Clinical trials have not proved conclusively that TENS machines work for every individual, and it seems to be the case that they will work for some sufferers but not others.  If TENS machines work for you they are an excellent solution to short term back problems, while for those with longer term conditions they are something of a life saver. 

Staying Healthy

Generally back pain will clear up without the need to visit your doctor (do see a doctor before considering TENS machines, as these should not be used by certain people) and you’ll soon be back to your normal active self.  One bout of back pain should be enough to convince you that prevention in future is better than treatment; remember to sit correctly, take exercise regularly and learn (or remember) how to lift correctly.  Our spines have a lot to put up with and as you only get one, it makes a lot of sense to look after it. 

Back pain affects most people at some point in their lives, if not several times.  For some, chronic back pain requires medication and treatment, for others the pain is short lived.  TENS machines are one method that can rid you of pain without the need for medication or physiotherapy. 

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