You know you’re getting old when you start experiencing back pain. If middle-age had a calling card, I think it’s safe to say that chronic back pain would be it. As a child, I remember my father being hit every so often, and for a couple of weeks he’d be doubled over and super grouchy. Occasionally he’d seek relief from a chiropractor. Here in the States, it seems people prefer to load up on pills or use high-tech (and highly expensive) gadgetry.
I’m not here to tell anyone how to treat their pain, but it’s interesting to note that Americans spend a whopping $86 billion on back pain each year!
For those of us without that kind of coin, Forbes has some tips that might ease back pain while going easy on the pocketbook.
1. Wait it out. Most acute back pain goes away on its own, says Forbes. A 1995 study of North Carolina residents with back pain found that most were fully recovered after an average of 16 days. Richard Deyo of Oregon Health & Science University advises that: “The natural history is very favorable. Time is on your side.” Odds are, even chronic symptoms won’t have serious medical consequences. So, while “chill out” may not be want you want to hear, it might actually be helpful.
2. But stay active. Forget bed rest — the key to curing chronic back pain is to stay active. A 1995 Finnish study compared patients who were prescribed two days of bed rest to those that weren’t. The active group got back up to speed faster than their resting counterparts. This may be attributed to the strengthening of muscles, motion around the spinal disks moving nutrients in, and waste as well as a positive psychological impact.
3. Low tech remedies. Non-invasive treatments often work best, for example: spinal manipulation from a chiropractor or osteopath; interdisciplinary rehabilitation programs, which combine exercise and counseling; and cognitive-behavioral therapy to help develop coping skills for pain. High tech remedies, from spinal injections to “needles that burn spinal disks” have been found surprisingly non-effective. If you feel you need to take medicine, anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants are good choices.
4. MRIs not helpful. “Up to 90% of people get worn-down spinal disks and other spine imperfections as they age,” says Forbes. Although these can be spotted with magnetic resonance imaging, doctors may not always be able to determine the cause of back pain. A study in the Journal of American Medical Association study reveals what MRIs often lead to people undergoing unnecessary surgery.
So, while it’s always a good idea to know all of your options and to consult a medical professional when necessary, it’s interesting to hear that sometimes just waiting for it to heal naturally while keeping active is the best thing one can do. I’ll keep that in mind when I hit middle age…
Read the full Forbes article here.