Cheat Sheet

Treating Your Back & Neck Pain For Dummies (UK Edition)

Tired of suffering with painful back and neck problems? Want to learn about how to relieve pain and avoid further problems in the future? Use this handy Cheat Sheet to assist you in the self-management of your symptoms, how to prevent them and when to get professional help.

Managing a Back or Neck Pain Attack

Suffering with back or neck problems can be extremely painful. Try some of the following tips to get your back and neck pain attack under control:

  • Go to bed but not for too long. Limit bed rest to two to three days to calm down your back and neck pain.

  • Use ice or heat. Both ice and heat can reduce muscle spasm and make you more comfortable.

  • Use anti-inflammatory medication. Unless you have a medical reason for not taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication, Advil, Nurofen, Motrin, Brufen, and other medications work very well for pain. Try aspirin or paracetamol as a painkiller first, though.

  • Start moving around, even during the bed-rest phase. Gradually increase your activity as soon as you can – walking is one of the best and safest exercises.

  • Return to normal activity. Gradually increase your activities until you return to normal levels.

If this self-management approach to your back or neck pain doesn’t provide significant relief after about a week, see a doctor.

Standing Comfortably for Your Back and Neck

One of the most important things to consider in terms of a healthy back and neck is posture. A good posture involves training your body to sit, walk, lie and stand in positions that put the least strain on your body as possible. To practise a healthy standing position:

  • Stand against a wall with your heels approximately 6 centimetres away from the wall.

  • Move the small of your back toward the wall by tilting your pelvis.

  • Keep your knees slightly bent and make sure not to lock them in a straight position.

  • Ideally, your shoulders are in a straight line with your torso and not rounded forward and slumped over.

  • Your head is fairly centred over the top of your chest and in a level position, and your neck is fairly straight, with a slight forward curve.

Always try to move about and alternate your position frequently (about every 20 minutes) if you have to stand for a long period of time. Change positions to keep your muscles and spine relaxed.

See Your Doctor Immediately for These Back-Related Symptoms

You can self-manage most episodes of back or neck pain, but the following warning signs may indicate more serious problems that your doctor needs to check:

  • You can’t control your bowel or bladder. If you suddenly lose control of your bowel or bladder, see your GP or go to your local hospital accident and emergency (A&E) department immediately. Bowel or bladder problems include the following:

    • You can’t control or initiate urination or bowel movements.

    • You have no feeling in your groin and/or anal area.

    • You’re male and you can no longer get an erection.

  • Your legs or feet are weak. If you experience significant weakness in your legs and feet, see your GP or go to A&E within 24 hours.

  • Your back or neck pain awakens you at night. This type of pain – called rest pain – involves severe throbbing and aching that worsens with rest.

  • You experience significant trauma such as a car accident or a fall. If you suffer a significant trauma that causes or contributes to your back or neck pain, you need to see your GP or go to A&E.

  • Your pain is excruciating. If your back or neck pain is simply unbearable or your pain increases significantly, see your GP or go to A&E immediately. Excruciating is a subjective term, but if your pain’s so bad that you can barely move or you’re on the verge of tears, don’t be tough – have the pain checked out.

Checking Up on Your Doctor for Back or Neck Treatment

Finding the right practitioner can be the key to solving your back or neck problem. Before a specialist treats you, do a little checking up of your own to be sure that the health-care professional is right for you and your back or neck problem. To find out, all you have to do is to consult the Medical Directory, which you can find in any public library. Simply ask the librarian for it. It lists medically qualified doctors and tells you:

  • What degrees and qualifications the doctor or consultant has and where he or she trained and qualified.

  • His or her post-graduate qualifications.

  • The medical and professional societies he or she belongs to.

  • The junior hospital posts the practitioner held, and where.

  • The current consultant post he or she holds, and in what speciality.

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