Keep Back Pain from Being Such a Pain

Keep Back Pain from Being Such a Pain

Keep Back Pain from Being Such a Pain

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You may have a dull ache in your back that just won’t go away. Or you may feel a sharp, sudden pain that stops you in your tracks. Either way, you want the pain to stop.

Back pain can come from accidents, overuse and injuries like lifting something that’s too heavy, or even from carrying a heavy shoulder bag. Something as simple as bad posture or bending the wrong way can lead to back pain.

Here are some important things to know about preventing and treating back pain.

When to See the Doctor

First you can try rest, hot or cold packs and an over-the-counter pain medicine. If nothing you do on your own seems to work, it may be the right time to see a doctor.

Go to the doctor if:

  • Your back pain has not improved with rest after a few days
  • You have numbness or tingling in your back
  • You have numbness in your hands or feet, a fever, trouble urinating or general weakness

If you are in moderate to severe pain, be sure to stop exercising and doing other activities that make the pain worse until you can see your doctor. This will help you avoid making the injury worse.

Most doctors will work you into their schedule if you are in serious pain. But if you don’t have a doctor or medical group you use regularly, you may need to go to an urgent care center instead. Most take walk-in patients. Don’t start with a trip to an emergency room. The cost is higher, and the wait to see a doctor may be much longer.

How to Treat the Pain

The addiction that can come with using strong pain drugs is a major concern. So most doctors will help you find other ways to treat your back pain. This could include physical therapy, stretches and core-building exercises, or even meditation. If you are overweight or out of shape, diet and exercise can help.

If surgery is needed, talk to your doctor before the surgery about pain management. Be sure to discuss limiting the use of opioids.

Start with Prevention

One of the best ways to avoid back pain is through regular exercise and stretching. Being fit both strengthens your muscles and gives them support. Focus on exercises that strengthen your core muscles. A strong core helps with posture, makes it easier to lift heavy objects without straining your back and protects your spine.

A diet that includes plenty of Vitamin D and calcium can also help keep those bones strong. The Mayo Clinic suggests three “smart” steps to prevent back pain:

  • Stand smart: Keeping good posture can reduce stress on your back muscles.
  • Sit smart: Try to make sure your chair has strong back support. And if you’re sitting for a long time, change your position or get up and walk around a little bit.
  • Lift smart: Make your legs do the work when you lift something. Keep your back straight, bending only at the knees. And keep the load close to your body.

You can’t change some reasons behind back pain, like age. But you can take steps to help.

  • Lose weight: Extra pounds can cause stress and pain in the back.
  • Treat illness: See your doctor about arthritis, infections and other health issues.
Sources: Back Pain, leaving site icon National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, 2019; Back pain, leaving site icon Mayo Clinic, 2023

Originally published August 7, 2017; Revised 2020, 2024