The Free Press, Mankato, MN

August 11, 2013

Treating back pain without surgery


Mayo Clinic Health System

---- — 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:

* Acupuncture

* Chiropractic care

* Massage

* Yoga

Can back pain be prevented? Some back pain may be unavoidable throughout the course of your life, but there are some things you can do to decrease your risk.

* Exercise. Low-impact activity that doesn’t strain or jolt your back can increase your strength and flexibility. Walking and swimming are some popular options.

* Build muscle strength. Abdominal and back muscle exercises — also called core-strengthening exercises — help condition your muscles to protect and support your back.

* Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, you’re putting an extra strain on your spine and its support muscles. Maintaining a healthy weight can prevent back pain and also ease the symptoms more quickly.

* Posture. Good posture can reduce the amount of stress on the spine. Choose furniture with proper lower back support. When lifting objects, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight and bend at the knees. If something’s too heavy or awkward to lift, find someone to help you.

John Jakovich, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System physiatrist. Dr. Jakovich will give a Speaking of Health presentation on back pain that is open to the public Aug. 20, at 7 p.m. at New Prague.

For more information, please go to www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org.

Health & Fitness coverage is supported by Mayo Clinic Health System, preserving the health and well-being of southern Minnesota communities.