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Coping with Chronic Back Pain

Coping with Chronic Back Pain: Main Image
Some people wrongly believe they just have to live with the pain
As many people know, low back pain can seriously interfere with a person’s social and work life. A recent report published in the British Medical Journal suggests that though a third of people usually recover completely within 12 months, certain factors can delay chronic low back pain recovery.

Pain and disability affect recovery time

In this study, 406 people with recent onset of chronic (defined as at least three months) low back pain were followed for one year. Participants were interviewed to determine how their conditions improved on measures of pain intensity, disability, and ability to work. Factors associated with delayed recovery of chronic low back pain included:

  • High disability levels or high pain intensity levels at the onset of chronic back pain
  • Low level of education in the person with back pain
  • Greater perceived risk of persistent pain from the back pain sufferer

Other studies have shown both more and less time needed for complete recovery.

Tips for dealing with chronic low back pain

As much as 30% of the adult population may suffer from chronic low back pain. Fortunately, there are important steps people can take to keep their backs healthy or speed recovery:

  • See a doctor. Don’t diagnose yourself. If you suffer from persistent back pain of any type see a primary care doctor for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendations. Some people may also seek the help of a chiropractic doctor for low back pain.
  • Follow-up. It’s so important to follow-up with your doctor after your first visit and let him or her know how you are doing. Too often, people go to their doctor initially but don’t follow-up to let them know what is and isn’t working. Some people wrongly believe they just have to live with the pain. There is much a doctor can do such as adjust medications, refer you to physical therapy or other specialists, suggest regular exercises, or recommend complementary therapies such as massage. If your pain persists, check in with your doctor.
  • Learn good posture. It is important to learn correct postures for sitting, standing, and lifting that help strengthen and support your back without adding strain. It’s also important to adjust standing, seating, or computer positioning in your work space to prevent or relieve back strain. Ask your employer if they have experts that can help improve your work space or working conditions to avoid injury.
  • Ask about exercise. While you may not be able to exercise during episodes of acute back pain, for some types of injury, exercise may help. Ask your doctor for exercise recommendations that may help relieve and prevent back pain. Your doctor may also recommend a physical therapist who can teach you exercises to strengthen your back, arms, and legs and help relieve pain.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Feeling tired can worsen pain of any type, so it is important to get plenty of sleep each night and to talk with your doctor if you are not sleeping well.
  • Complementary therapies may ease back pain. Talk with your doctor about complementary therapies that can ease back pain such as acupuncture, massage, yoga, tai chi, or relaxation exercises.

    (BMJ 2009;339:b3829doi:10.1136/bmj.b3829)

Jane Hart, MD, board-certified in internal medicine, serves in a variety of professional roles including consultant, journalist, and educator. Dr. Hart, a Clinical Instructor at Case Medical School in Cleveland, Ohio, writes extensively about health and wellness and a variety of other topics for nationally recognized organizations, websites, and print publications. Sought out for her expertise in the areas of integrative and preventive medicine, she is frequently quoted by national and local media. Dr. Hart is a professional lecturer for healthcare professionals, consumers, and youth and is a regular corporate speaker.

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