Back pain is one of the most debilitating and most common health concerns that affect approximately 80% of the population1Freburger, J., Holmes, G., & Agans, R. (2009). The Rising Prevalence of Chronic Low Back Pain. JAMA Network. Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/414769.. It doesn’t discriminate either, affecting everyone from young children and teenagers to adults and elderly. The causes of back pain are just as vast, and sometimes not known at all. And despite how brutal agonizing pain and discomfort in your back can feel, the physical symptoms can seemingly appear to not be nearly as bad as the mental and emotional ones.
Whether it’s acute or chronic, there’s no denying that back pain is brutal. It accounts for more than 101.8 million missed workdays2Guo, H. R., Tanaka, S., Halperin, W. E., & Cameron, L. L. (1999). Back pain prevalence in US industry and estimates of lost workdays. American journal of public health, 89(7), 1029–1035. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.89.7.1029. This can then begin to affect your relationships, finances, and lifestyle… Or whatever lifestyle you still have left since back pain has probably taken control of that aspect of your life too. You can’t work, you can’t enjoy your hobbies, and now everything else is seemingly falling apart. But the worst is that you can’t find an effective remedy that actually heals and eradicates back pain. The prescription medications are expensive and quite dangerous, physical therapy is even more costly, and you don’t have any extra funds because you’ve missed work. Back pain is so much more than just back pain and hopefully, that’s about to change right now as we dive into the most effective back pain relief options and advice.
The 101 on Back Pain
By definition, it’s easy to understand what back pain is – it’s pain in the back. However, there are varying degrees, locations and causes of back pain that make this rather straightforward health condition quite complex. It is also the most common reason people take a trip to their doctors, and it is a leading cause of disability across the globe. But how can one thing affect so many different people and lifestyles all over the world? Well, it’s because back pain is not just one thing.
Different Types of Back Pain
Like many health conditions, one size does not fit all. There are many different types of back pain that vary drastically in intensity, frequency, location and cause. Back pain can also be acute or chronic, sudden and sporadic, or constant and unexplainable. This is why it’s crucial to understand the type of pain you’re experiencing, so you can narrow in on the best treatment for it.
Typically, back pain is often separated into three categories: the cervical region (neck), the thoracic region (upper back), and the lumbar region (lower back). Understanding where your back pain is coming from can provide you with some insight on what’s going on, which can be any of these types of back pain:
- Compressed nerves
- Degenerative disc disease
- Herniated discs
- Muscle injury
- Narrow spinal canal
- Natural aging
- Pinched nerves
- Spinal infection
Common Causes of Back Pain
Just like the different types, the causes of back pain are incredibly vast. It can be caused by the natural aging process, an injury or disease, or it can be the result of poor posture or a simple tweak. The cause of back pain isn’t always physical either, as it can even be brought on by things, such as stress, smoking, and diet3Low Back Pain Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2020). Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet.. However, regardless of the cause, back pain can be excruciatingly painful and even debilitating.
Understanding the common causes of back pain is a great place to start when it comes to your healing. Simply by knowing the causes, you can gain all of the knowledge needed to properly identify and begin treating your back pain. However, as mentioned, there are many potential causes and we would be here all day if we went through all of them. Most importantly, it is imperative that you speak with your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis of your individual case.
In the meantime, some common causes of back pain are4Back pain – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906.:
- Injured discs
- Muscle injury
- Physical trauma
- Stress (and ineffective stress management)
- Weight gain/obesity
Common Treatment for Back Pain
You guessed it – the possible treatment options for back pain are just as vast as everything else in this article. This is precisely because, in order for a treatment plan for back pain to be effective, it must be based on the individual type and cause of back pain. There are different stretches, yoga and movements for pain relief in your low back vs. your neck or your upper back; there are natural treatment plans, holistic ones, and “quick” conventional options. Relief can be found on a yoga mat or in a diet change; it can also be found in an expensive prescription or with frequent trips to a physical therapist. While I highly recommend going the natural route, here are common types of treatment used for back pain:
- Cortisone injections
- Lifestyle modifications
- Losing weight
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Physical therapy
- Yoga and stretching
Tips for Back Pain Treatment
As you can see, the types of treatment for back pain range from natural options to ancient remedies, to invasive surgeries and mental health practices. It’s important that you speak with your healthcare provider to find the best back pain treatment option for you. However, there are some things you’ll want to aim for, such as:
- Choose a plan that is designed to treat the cause of your back pain (and not just the symptoms)
- Implement preventative measures: learn proper lifting techniques, practice proper body mechanics, etc.
- Eliminate risk factors: smoking, obesity, poor posture, inactivity, etc.
- Aim to increase the strength and endurance of your body with low-impact activities
- Build muscle strength and flexibility using abdominal and back muscle exercises
- Be more active (the more you sit, the worst the pain can get)
- Avoid options that only mask your symptoms instead of healing the problem: prescription medications, illegal drugs, alcohol, etc.
- Use hot/cold therapy
- Improve your posture when sitting, standing, walking and sleeping
- Try natural pain relief, such as magnesium lotions and Ayurveda herbs
- Practice more stress relief: get a massage, journal, do some breath work, etc.
- Avoid twisting movements
For the sake of keeping your back pain treatment plan healthy and positive, it is always recommended to opt for a treatment plan that is as natural as possible and one that addresses your individual factors. While prescription pain relief medications can provide the immediate relief you need, they are not a long-term solution. They can help you get through this exact moment, but for a sustainable, long-lasting relief plan, natural is often best. You’ll want to look for a treatment regime that aims to improve your back and circumstances to prevent the pain from coming back in the future and one that you can continue with. However, it is crucial to speak with your healthcare professional to determine the specific cause and type of back pain you’re experiencing. This is key, as some treatment options may not be best for all types of back pain. And the last thing you want to do is prolong your symptoms or make them worse.
- 1Freburger, J., Holmes, G., & Agans, R. (2009). The Rising Prevalence of Chronic Low Back Pain. JAMA Network. Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/414769.
- 2Guo, H. R., Tanaka, S., Halperin, W. E., & Cameron, L. L. (1999). Back pain prevalence in US industry and estimates of lost workdays. American journal of public health, 89(7), 1029–1035. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.89.7.1029
- 3Low Back Pain Fact Sheet | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2020). Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet.
- 4Back pain – Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 9 December 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906.