Beat Back Pain WITHOUT Surgery
If you’ve ever suffered a bout of back pain, you know that relief can’t come quickly enough. If you haven’t, well, unfortunately, chances are you will. Virtua pain and spine specialist Kieran Slevin, MD, is on the front line of treating pain, and in particular back pain, everyday. According to Dr. Slevin, “Eighty percent of all men and women will experience at least one episode of significant back pain in their lives.”
Recent research confirms the widespread trouble caused by chronic pain. In late June 2011, the Institute of Medicine published a report on chronic pain in America. The report brief begins with a startling revelation:
“Chronic pain affects an estimated 116 million American adults—more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined. Pain also costs the nation up to $635 billion each year in medical treatment and lost productivity.”
“The findings of this report are all over the Internet right now. They’re even being talked about in Congress,” says Dr. Slevin. “This gives you an idea of how significant the issue is.”
Prevention, prevention, prevention
The old saying goes that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; Dr. Slevin couldn’t agree more. “Our goal should be to optimize back care on our own, with or without medical intervention,” he says. In the fight against back pain, “preventive care is hugely important.”
The following are a few tips for reducing risk factors and promoting a healthy back:
Lift with care
There is a right way and a wrong way to lift a heavy object. Whether it’s a child, a grocery bag, or a piece of furniture, Dr. Slevin’s advice is the same: “Keep your back straight, and bend at your knees. When you lean forward to lift, you put the [intervertebral] discs in a very compromised position.”
“It’s still not fully understood why, but nicotine has been shown to block some of the small blood vessels present in the lower back,” says Dr. Slevin. “This means smoking is a risk factor for low back pain in and of itself.”
Maintain a healthy weight
Weight control is key in the management of chronic pain. Excess weight lends itself to additional stress on the back, as well as the hips and knees.
Build a strong core
Women can maintain a strong core by engaging in a sensible exercise regime. “Make sure your abdominal muscles are strong,” says Dr. Slevin. “A couple of sessions with a trainer to ensure proper form and intensity are a good investment of both time and resources.” He warns against pushing too hard or too fast in the gym, however; this can backfire and induce the injuries you’re working to avoid. As with any new exercise routine, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor first.
Solving back pain without surgery
Even when you do everything right, an accident or a chronic issue can introduce back pain. The good news is there’s a lot you can do to treat back pain without invasive surgery.
Here are some tried-and-true methods Dr. Slevin has employed his patients:
An oft-prescribed and oft-overlooked method of treating pain, properly applied ice and heat can work wonders on an injured back. Use ice for the first 24-36 hours after the injury, and then follow up with heat in the days that follow. A few words of caution: never put ice or a hot pack directly on the skin (always use a barrier, such as a soft towel) and apply at intervals of 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off to give the skin a chance to recover.
Analgesic creams applied directly to the skin are another option for pain relief. “The camphor and menthol in products like Bengay and the capsaicin (hot pepper derivative) in other over-the-counter creams present strong alternatives in treating back pain,” says Dr. Slevin. Because they’re available at your drugstore without a prescription, they’re often a good starting point for self-care at home.
“There are some very high-end braces available now, usually covered by insurance, that can be extremely effective in treating back pain,” says Dr. Slevin. “One of my patients, an active, working woman who I’ve been treating for years and who recently tried a new, soft contouring brace with lumbar support, reported a 70 percent decrease in her pain thanks to that brace.” For women concerned about their appearance while wearing a brace, Dr. Slevin assures that “the newer braces being made are low profile, very comfortable, and do a great job of correcting posture and body mechanics.”
Despite the challenges we all face when it comes to maintaining healthy, pain-free backs, Dr. Slevin is excited about what the future holds. “Know that treating pain doesn’t have to mean surgery. There are advances being made in all facets of the spectrum, from the more conservative to the minimally invasive to the more sophisticated surgical procedures,” he says. “In 10 years of practice, I’ve seen revolutionary new approaches to pain treatment take hold. We’re able to help people get and stay more active, and that’s just a beautiful thing.”