The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Health & Fitness

August 11, 2013

Treating back pain without surgery

Back pain is one of the most common health complaints in the U.S. In fact, nine out of 10 Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain — only in the most severe cases.

There are many different causes of back pain, and if you have problems with your spine, there are several things you can do to treat the pain and improve your quality of life.

1. Physical Therapy. This is the cornerstone of all back pain treatment. A physical therapist can help you increase your flexibility, strengthen your muscles and improve your posture. Physical therapists use several different types of treatment:

* Stretches

* Exercises

* Cold/heat

* Ultrasound

* Electrical stimulation

2. Medication. Your health care provider will likely recommend over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen. All of these medicines can be effective at relieving pain. If the pain doesn’t get better using over-the-counter drugs, your provider may prescribe a muscle relaxant. Narcotics (e.g. codeine or hydrocodone) should only be used over a brief period of time to treat severe pain under close supervision by your health care provider.

3. Injections. If physical therapy and medication don’t improve your condition, your health care provider may suggest an epidural injection of cortisone — an anti-inflammatory medication. This helps decrease inflammation around the nerves in your spine, and the pain relief usually lasts a few months. You may also receive a facet joint injection. The facet joints can be a source of back pain. Located around each vertebra in the spine, they connect the vertebrae to one another, stabilizing the spine and allowing flexibility.

4. Alternative care. There are a number of options for alternative treatments that may help ease back pain symptoms. You should discuss the benefits and risks of these treatments with your health care provider. Some alternative treatments include:

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