Cheat Sheet

Back Pain Remedies For Dummies

From Back Pain Remedies For Dummies by Michael S. Sinel, MD, William W. Deardorff, PhD

Back pain is such a common condition that many doctors consider it a normal part of life — but you don't have to suffer. To start, know when to see a doctor for your pain, learn how to choose the right doctor to treat it, and ask smart questions about the tests and treatments your doctor suggests. Managing back pain requires home care, too; so develop a plan for managing your back pain at home.

Finding the Right Doctor to Treat Back Pain

Finding the right practitioner can be the key to solving your back pain problem. Before a physician or specialist treats you, do a little checking up on your own to be sure that the healthcare professional is right for you and your back pain problem. Take the following questions into the doctor's office with you to help ensure that you find the right doctor:

  • What is your degree and where did you do your training?

  • Are you board-certified in your specialty?

  • To what medical and professional societies do you belong?

  • How long have you practiced in this area?

  • Do you have special training in treating back pain problems?

  • Are you comfortable treating back pain problems using a conservative (non-surgical) approach?

  • What percentage of the patients you see have back pain problems?

How to Be Proactive when Treating Your Back Pain

Finding permanent relief from back pain requires you to be a proactive patient. You should feel comfortable with all the tests your doctor wants you to have, and understand the treatments that could be available to you.

If your doctor recommends that you have a medical test for your back problem, you should get answers to the following check-up questions first:

  • What is the name of the test, and what do you expect to learn from it?

  • Why is the test performed, and why am I being advised to have it?

  • What can I expect before, during, and after the test?

  • What does it mean if the test is positive or negative?

  • How is the test related to developing a treatment plan for me?

Be an active partner with your doctor in the treatment of your back problem. The following checklist helps you get the answers you need:

  • Why are you recommending this treatment for me?

  • What benefit should I expect, and how long will it take to determine if the treatment is working?

  • Are there any possible problems that can occur with this treatment? What should I do if these occur?

  • Is there any problem doing this treatment along with the other treatments I am pursuing?

Warning Signs: When to See a Doctor for Back Pain

Initially, you can self-manage most episodes of back pain. The following warning signs, however, may indicate more serious back problems or other medical issues. If you experience one of the following, you need to visit your doctor.

  • Problems with your bowel (loss of feeling), bladder (trouble with urination), sexual function (inability to get an erection for men), or numbness in your groin area

  • Weakness in one or both of your legs and/or feet

  • Back pain that awakens you at night that is throbbing and aching

  • A serious trauma to your spine, such as a car accident or fall

  • Excruciating back pain or new symptoms

  • Problems with your medications, or using alcohol or other substances to manage your back pain problem?

How to Manage Back Pain

At its best, back pain makes it hard to think about anything else; but at its worst, back pain can be debilitating. When your back suddenly acts up, try the following regime to get your pain attack under control:

  • Go to bed, but not for long: Limited bed rest (one to three days) can help calm down back pain.

  • Use ice and heat: Applying ice and heat to your back can help control the symptoms and make you more comfortable.

  • Use anti-inflammatory medication: Unless you have a medical reason for not taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, Advil, Aleve, Motrin, Nuprin, and other medications work very well for pain.

  • Start moving around even during the bed rest phase: Limited bed rest is helpful, but you should gradually increase your activity as soon as you can. Walking is one of the best and safest exercises.

  • Return to normal activity: After limited bed rest, gradually increase your activities each day until you return to your normal levels.

  • Seek professional help: If you experience any of the warning signs mentioned in the preceding section get professional help.

If this self-management approach to your back pain doesn't provide significant relief after about one week, then you should see a doctor if you have not already done so.

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