More than 80% of the population experiences back pain at some point. If your time has come, you may be wondering what to do and how bad it will get. Most cases of chronic back pain are diagnosed as nonspecific or idiopathic, meaning that no cause is identified. This makes prognosis and treatment difficult; it also makes it hard to tell how the pain went from being acute to being chronic. However, we're not totally in the dark; there are things you can do to tie your back pain at its sunset and possibly prevent it from becoming recurrent or chronic.
1. Keep Calm
You likely know people with chronic back pain who have activity limitations, and maybe even some who are on disability due to their condition. At the first twinge of pain, your mind may jump to the worst case scenario. Talk yourself down.
What's wrong with a little anxiety? Catastrophizing, or believing that your situation is worse than it actually is, is a risk factor for chronic pain. There are a couple reasons. First, emotions like depression and anxiety are connected to chronic pain, particularly because the same areas of the brain process both emotional and physical stimuli and use the same neurotransmitters to communicate both types of feelings. Another reason is that your attitude, beliefs and ideas influence your behavior. If you think you're doomed to disability and at risk for further pain, you may lead yourself into a sedentary lifestyle. Since movement is imperative for back health, catastrophizing can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Rest or Move?
As just mentioned, movement is important for the health of your back. However, should you move when in pain? This depends on the cause and severity of your pain. If you had a clear injury from lifting or moving awkwardly, such as muscle strain, a brief period of rest will be beneficial. If you've been in a car accident or other traumatic situation, you need to go to a hospital for imaging tests to find out if you suffered an injury to the spell. If you're feeling muscle cramps or aches in your back not associated with a clear injury, stretching may be the best thing for you.
If you do rest, it should be for no longer than 2 days. Muscle mass and cardiovascular health decrease dramatically during bed rest.
Ice or Heat?
Typically, it is recommended that ice be applied to injured areas during the first three days to reduce inflammation. Ice constricts blood vessels, reducing the amount of inflammatory fluids that enter the injured area. Heat increases blood flow to bodily tissues and can be helpful in the case of tight, fatty muscles that may be sore or cramping because they are not receiving enough nutrients and oxygen from blood flow. Heat may also be applied to an injured area after three days of ice therapy to restore fresh blood flow.
Take a Hint
Perhaps the most important thing you should do after a bout of back pain is to take a hint. Pain is your body's way of telling you something is not right. If your pain came on after you lived an object while twisting, for example, your pain is teaching you to practice better body mechanics. If the pain appeared to come out of now, it's telling you to take better care of your body in general. Begin a stretching and exercising program, focusing on the core muscle group. If you're overweight, take steps to get to a healthy weight. Pay attention to your posture. If you're a gym-goer, make sure the exercises you do are not promoting muscle imbalance.
Preventing chronic pain means correcting the problems that cause acute pain. Educating yourself on back pain causes is the first step to preventing it.