In Part one of this series, we talked about how back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor. This time, I’d like to start by asking you a question:
Have you ever worked in the yard or picked up something the wrong way, and before you know it, you are on the ground writhing in pain? I know I have and if you’re reading this, you probably have as well. If not, consider yourself lucky because studies show that most people will have an episode of significant back pain at some point in their life. 
I can recall one very distinct story when my back “went out.” I was 24 years old helping my brother move to Dallas and unfortunately he was moving to the 3rd story of an apartment. We had driven several hours to get there and arrived late in the evening.
Everything was going well until I moved this one small lamp. As I set it down I had this very distinct feeling that I was about to be in a lot of pain, and sure enough I was right. This was pain like I had not experienced before. I was incapacitated.
What I had done was injure a “disc” in my back. The intervertebral discs are the spacers between the bones in your back which act like shock absorbers to help forces distribute through your body. But your discs don’t like a lot of prolonged compression or heavy loads, both of which my spine had experienced a lot of that day.
I had sat for 4 hours in a bumpy truck and then attempted to lift heavy furniture up 3 flights of stairs. This was a bad combination. I had a very difficult time standing up straight and couldn’t get comfortable in bed at all.
The reality is that somewhere between 60-70% of people will have an episode of low back in their life.  The other 30-40% are probably lying. (just kidding … kinda)
You might reach for a heating pad or ice pack, take a hot bath, or even some advil. But the reality is that you are really only addressing the symptoms with those things; which is completely fine at the moment. There is nothing wrong with addressing symptoms, as long as you also make sure to address the causes of your back pain.
You may have to see your doctor. He or she may prescribe some pain medcation to help ease your pain. And it small doses that can be perfectly fine. But you really want to be careful not to have to rely on pain medication to get you through your day for very long.
We have an epidemic in this country of people abusing pain medication. The problem with opioid abuse has risen to such dangerous levels that the FDA required new label warning patients of the potential harms of these very powerful medications. 
There are many reasons why people get back pain. Below are some of the most common causes (or aggravating factors) of back pain for the patients we help in the clinic.
- Improper lifting– we often see people who sustained a back injury when working in their yard or lifting heavy at the gym and not using proper lifting/bending mechanics while doing so.
- Prolonged sitting– sitting puts a lot of pressure on the discs in our back and also allows certain muscles of the back to become tight because they are held in a shortened position … Even if we are sitting with “good posture.”
- Improper sleeping positions– a common cause of neck and back pain is not using proper pillows, mattress, and sleeping position specifically for you, your body type, and the kind of back issue you’re dealing with.
It can be quite quick and easy to identify problems in any of these areas and determine if you need to make changes in how you lift things, your desk/chair set up, or your sleeping arrangement. Sometimes these things can be revealed via a quick free consultation in our clinic … just call us at 512-693-8849 and ask about setting up a free consultation, and within 20-30 minutes with one of our Physical Therapists, you can have the relief of knowing exactly what’s causing your back pain and the best path to get rid of it.
My story ended well. I was better in several weeks but the reality is if I addressed it immediately I would have been better much faster (If only I was already a Doctor of Physical Therapy at that time!)
If you have a back pain story or any questions about the information above, please share them in the comments below.
- Duthey, Beatrice. Priority Medicines for Europe and the World “A Public Health Approach to Innovation” http://www.who.int/medicines/areas/priority_medicines/BP6_24LBP.pdf. 15 March 2013
- Fritz JM, Magel JS, McFadden M, Asche C, Thackeray A, Meier W, Brennan G. Early Physical Therapy vs Usual Care in Patients With Recent-Onset Low Back PainA Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2015;314(14):1459-1467. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.11648