Unlike some health conditions that need to be resolved as soon as possible (such as a broken bone), most forms of low back pain actually don't need to be fixed. Low back pain usually just needs to be managed - through a combination of pain management, specific types of exercise, nutrition and postural changes that protect the spine.
One of the most common forms of low back pain is called mechanical back pain, often associated with degenerative disc disease. Of course anything called degenerative disc disease does sound awful, but the symptoms of the disease are actually not degenerative.
While some people with this condition are unlucky enough to develop debilitating back pain, for most of us the back pain from degenerative disc disease is just a signal that we need to adopt a healthier lifestyle to keep the symptoms in check.
The natural history of degenerative disc disease is a chronic low level of pain or discomfort with intermittent flare ups of pain. Managing this common type of back pain has two main objectives:
Manage your pain level. Keeping the pain to a tolerable level will help keep you active, which in turn will help minimize the pain and prevent it from getting worse. Common pain management techniques include ice packs, heating pads, over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, and possibly epidural steroid injections. Some people find alternative treatments quite helpful, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage therapy.
Personally, I think nothing beats a good neuromuscular massage. On mild days a heating pad on my low back at the end of the day feels soothing, and if I've overdone it exercising or roughhousing with the kids then an ice pack usually does the trick.
- Stay healthy overall. Good overall health -- and the health of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support your spine -- will go a long way to minimizing painful flare-ups. Exercise and physical fitness are critical, including stretching and building strength in the core trunk muscles that help support the spine. Aerobic exercise brings important nutrients to the discs in the low back. Modifying movements and posture minimize stress on the low back and help prevent injury, and eating well fortifies the body (including spinal discs) against degeneration. And of course avoid smoking and don't drink too much alcohol.
Like other chronic conditions (diabetes, asthma), with mechanical low back pain you can do a lot personally to help keep the severity of the condition in check. It is by no means a guarantee that the condition won't worsen -- some people can do everything right and their back pain still gets much worse. But for most of us, these lifestyle changes can go a long way to keeping the pain in check and, importantly, avoiding the need for extensive surgery.
Posted by: Stephanie