Treating Back and Neck Pain from A to Z

Inside Your Spine

Are you doing everything you can to optimize your spine treatment? Working with your spine care professional by taking care of your back will optimize medical treatments.

We've compiled a list of self-care suggestions to incorporate into your overall health plan:

Acupuncture. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) released a statement that acupuncture has beneficial pain-relieving qualities that might be useful as a treatment for lower back pain and other painful conditions.

The mechanisms of acupuncture, though not solidly proven, seem to stimulate the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord - and it is thought that acupuncture causes specific chemicals to be released into the body that physically and psychologically affect pain.

See also Acupuncture: An Ancient Treatment for a Current Problem.

Begin to exercise when acute pain subsides. When you're in a lot of pain, the thought of active rehabilitation and exercise is daunting. The goal is to relieve your pain enough to allow you to start moving. Try over the counter pain relievers, electrical stimulations (e.g. TENS units), ice and/or heat, ultrasound, massage therapy, spinal manipulations, or injections. Once you've found the best pain reliever for you, get moving.

See also Physical Therapy: Passive PT (Modalities) for Back Pain.

Chiropractic care. Chiropractors focus on whole body health. In addition to chiropractic treatments, many in the profession teach exercises and offer nutrition advice.

See also Chiropractic Treatments for Lower Back Pain.

Deal with depression. People suffering from chronic pain are four times more likely to suffer from clinical depression than healthy individuals. The greater the pain, the more likely it is that the person will develop depression. The normal response to pain is a combination of fear, anxiety, irritability, anger, and eventually depression.

See also Depression and Chronic Back Pain.

Exercise + physical therapy. The use of physical therapy and exercise is integral to almost all forms of back and neck pain treatment. Sometimes physical therapy and exercise are the first lines of treatment, other times it may help manage chronic pain, or provide rehabilitation after surgery. Both gentle back exercise and physical therapy play a vital role in relieving pain.

Exercise provides a double-benefit: it helps your back heal more quickly and it prevents a recurrence of back pain.

A focused exercise program is critical to almost any back pain treatment and should include a combination of stretching, strengthening, and low-impact aerobic exercise. Exercise is important to continue even after you feel better to prevent future bouts of back pain.

Please remember to check with your physician prior to beginning any exercise program.

See also Exercise and Back Pain.

Find the right team. Integrated spine clinics bring together a team of professionals under one roof that can work together to help coordinate a personalized treatment plan.

These clinics may house several different types of spine health professionals including physical therapists, chiropractors, physical medicine physicians, and rehabilitation physicians (physiatrists).

See also Specialists Who Treat Back Pain.

Get others in your camp. Back pain can be especially difficult to deal with because back pain is usually invisible. Friends, family, and co-workers may not appreciate the full implications of your invisible pain.

Be up front with people and explain your condition. Help them understand your condition by directing them to pages on, showing them images of your spine, and describing to them how you are feeling.

See also The Spine-health Community Forum and our Facebook and Twitter pages.

How to Make a Moist Heat PackIt's possible to make a moist heat pack with common household items.
Video: How to Make a Moist Heat Pack

Heat therapy. While the overall qualities of warmth and heat have long been associated with comfort and relaxation, heat therapy goes a step further and can provide both pain relief and healing benefits for many types of lower back pain.

Heating pads, heat wraps, hot baths, warm gel packs, etc. - are both inexpensive and easy to use. Some patients find more pain relief with heat (either moist heat or dry heat) and others with ice. You may also alternate between heat and ice therapy.

See also Benefits of Heat Therapy for Lower Back Pain.

5 Quick and Easy Ice PacksHere are 5 quick and easy homemade ice packs to try. Watch: Video: How to Make 5 Quick and Easy Ice Packs

Ice. Even with all the high tech medical options available, a simple ice application can still be one of the more effective, proven methods to treat a sore back or neck.

Ice is typically most effective if it is applied soon after an injury occurs, or after any activity that causes pain or stiffness. Ice can also be very helpful in alleviating postoperative pain and discomfort. While any form of applying cold to the injured area - such as a bag of ice wrapped in a towel or a commercial ice pack - should be helpful, combining massage therapy with ice application is a nice alternative for pain relief.

See also Ice Massage for Back Pain Relief.

Joint health. Lifestyle changes in daily activities such as shortening or eliminating a long daily commute and adding frequent rest breaks can help maintain healthy joints.

See also Treatment Options for Facet Joint Pain .

Keep posture in mind. It's easy to forget about posture when you're on the go, on the phone, or doing other everyday activities. But these times are as important as any other for heightening your awareness of good posture and recognizing when certain postures and back pain episodes coincide.

See also Posture to Straighten Your Back.

Learn the McKenzie Method. The long-term goal of the McKenzie Method is to teach patients how to treat themselves and manage their own neck and/or back pain for life using exercise and other strategies.

See also The McKenzie Method for Neck and Back Problems.

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Massage therapy. Research shows that massage therapy provides important health benefits for people with back pain.

These benefits include: helping sore back muscles heal by improving blood circulation, relaxing muscles, improving range of motion, and helping manage chronic pain by increasing the level of endorphins in the body.

Neuromuscular therapy is recognized by The American Academy of Pain Management as an effective treatment for back pain caused by soft tissue injury (such as muscle strain).

See also Massage Therapy for Lower Back Pain.

Nutrition and diet. Diet, nutrition, and maintaining a healthy weight play a major role in preventing many back problems and healing from injuries.

See also Nutrition and Diet Tips.

Osteoporosis prevention. A bone density test often involves the use of a quick and painless, dual energy X-ray absorption (DEXA) scan that can determine if a person has normal bone density, low bone mass, osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis), or osteoporosis.

BMD testing is already recommended every 1-2 years for all women over 65, and for postmenopausal women under 65 and other patients with multiple osteoporosis risk factors.

See also Definitive Guide to Osteoporosis.

Pilates. Pilates is an exercise program that focuses on the core postural muscles that are essential to providing support for the spine and alleviating back pain. Learning awareness of neutral alignment of the spine and strengthening the deep postural muscles that support this alignment are important skills for the back pain patient.

Patients with pain stemming from excessive movement and degeneration of the intervertebral discs and joints (e.g. degenerative disc disease) are particularly likely to benefit from a Pilates exercise program.

See also Pilates Exercise System to Promote Back Health.

Quit smoking. People who smoke are more likely to have lower back pain and over 80% are more likely to develop degenerative disc disease than non-smokers.

Read more at Does Smoking Cause Low Back Pain?

Rest well. While you're sleeping, all of the structures in your spine that have worked hard all day finally have an opportunity to relax and be rejuvenated.

Using the right mattress and pillow will support the spine so the muscles and ligaments can be stress-free and have a chance to become refreshed. A large part of the decision of what type of mattress and pillow to use is based on personal preference. As long as the basis for the choice includes ensuring that the correct support and sleeping position will be attained, any of the many available types of mattress can be helpful.

See also Mattress Guidelines for Sleep Comfort and
Pillow Support and Comfort.

Stretch your hamstrings. If you have tight hamstring muscles (the large muscles in the back of your thighs), the motion in your pelvis may be limited, which can increase stress across your lower back.

To decrease this stress it is a good idea to incorporate hamstring stretching exercises into your daily routine. Hamstring stretching should typically include applying even pressure to lengthen the hamstring muscle for 30 to 45 seconds at a time, one to two times each day. There are a number of different ways to stretch your hamstrings. If you have a back condition you may want to check with your doctor or physical therapist to discuss which stretches will work best for you.

See also Specific Hamstring Stretches for Back Pain Relief.

Tai Chi. Unlike other forms of exercise such as yoga, Tai Chi involves a greater degree of movement. And unlike many types of aerobic exercise (such as running) Tai Chi does not involve any jarring motions that create impact on the spine. It is a slow, deliberate, and gentle flowing movement of the body. Because Tai Chi is gentle on the spine, many people with back pain find it easier to tolerate than many other forms of exercise.

See also Tai Chi for Posture and Back Pain.

Use medications to relieve pain. Multiple over-the-counter (non-prescription) and prescription medications can be helpful in relieving pain and addressing related symptoms while an episode of low back pain is getting better. Careful attention to pain management is a critical component of a patient’s recovery.

See also Medications for Back Pain and Neck Pain.

Vitamin C. Vitamin C can be found in fruits, such as strawberries, kiwi fruit, and citrus fruits (e.g. oranges, guavas, grapefruits) and tomatoes; many vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, red and green peppers, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes.

See also Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back.

Water therapy. Exercises that would normally be too painful to do on land, such as walking, often become tolerable to do in the water. Not only does the water provide the therapeutic effect of relieving pain, it helps get you ready for more extensive exercise.

See also Water Therapy Exercise Program.

X-Ray, MRI, CT Scans: Get an accurate clinical diagnosis. A clinical diagnosis should rule out the possibility of rare but serious conditions (such as a tumor), categorize your condition, and determine if there are neurological deficits (nerve damage).

An accurate diagnosis is based on a combination of the doctor's findings from your diagnostic tests including your physical exam and symptoms. It is essential to determine the appropriate treatment options for your back or neck pain.

To help you understand your diagnosis, it may be useful to read Getting an Accurate Back Pain Diagnosis and What's a Herniated Disc, Pinched Nerve, Bulging Disc...?

Yoga. Regular stretching exercises like Yoga are important to help alleviate back pain. Yoga increases blood flow, allowing nutrients to flow in, toxins to flow out, and provides overall nourishment to the muscles and soft tissues in the lower back.

Stretching the hamstring muscles (in the back of the thigh) helps expand the range of motion in the pelvis, which decreases stress across the lower back.

See also Healing Benefits of Yoga.

Zyban. Zyban is one medication available to help quit smoking.

See also Zyban and Chantix Medications to Quit Smoking.

Finally, try to be patient, as treating back pain is often more an art than a science and it may take a while to find the most helpful treatment or combination of treatments.

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