How to treat neck and back pain
Sometimes when you experience acute neck or back pain, it may improve simply with some rest. Nonprescription medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, may also help with the discomfort. You must try to take it easy and move gently during this period, so that you will not worsen it and you don’t lose mobility and become stiff.
If you have chronic pain in your neck and back, you should try several remedies that are helpful in some situations, before seeking surgical options. These include:
- Physical Therapy Rehabilitation
- Myofascial Release Therapy
- Hot or cold packs (under your physical therapist’s instructions)
- Specific exercises to strengthen muscles and ease pain, such as flexing and stretching. Your physical therapist can demonstrate and provide these exercises.
- Aerobic exercise may be permitted and can help with your overall fitness and strength
- With your healthcare provider’s supervision, certain muscle relaxants or anti-inflammatory medications may be used
- Braces or corsets for extra support
- Injections for pain relief in the area
- Nerve block, which decreases pain signals from the affected nerve
How to manage neck and back pain
Acute back pain usually improves without special treatment. Using ibuprofen or acetaminophen usually decreases pain and helps you rest when the pain isn’t that bad. Surgery and special exercises are generally not required with acute pain.
For chronic, severe, or disabling neck and back pain, physical therapy rehabilitation programs can be designed to meet your needs. The type of program will depend on the type and severity of your injury, pain, or disease. Active involvement of the patient and family is vital to the success of physical therapy rehabilitation programs.
The goal of neck and back physical therapy rehabilitation is to help you manage disabling pain, return you to your highest level of functioning and independence possible, while improving your overall quality of life. The focus of physical therapy rehabilitation is on relieving pain and improving mobility (movement) while avoiding surgery, injections, and medications that may be addictive and have side effects very damaging to your organs, such as your liver and kidneys. Physical therapy rehabilitation is usually very effective accomplishing this, particularly with Myofascial Release Therapy.
To help reach these goals, neck and back physical therapy rehabilitation programs may include the following:
- Myofascial Release Therapy
- Exercise programs to increase muscle strength, improve range of motion, improve flexibility and mobility, and increase endurance
- Help with obtaining assistive devices that promote independence
- Patient and family education and counseling
- Pain management techniques
- Smoking cessation counseling
- Gait (walking) and movement retraining
- Stress management
- Nutritional counseling
- Ergonomic assessments and work-related injury prevention programs
Complications of neck and back pain
- Loss or productivity: In working adults, back pain is the most common reason for disability.
- Nerve damage: If a herniated disc is what is causing your back pain, pressure on the spinal nerves may cause a variety of problems, such as weakness, numbness, or severe shooting pain that travels from the back to the leg.
- Depression: Neck or back pain disrupts ALL aspects of a person’s life: social activities, work, physical exercise, and sleep. The stress and anxiety caused by the pain and change in mobility usually lead to some level of depression.
- Weight gain: Inability to exercise and loss of mobility usually lead to the loss of muscle strength and weight gain.
You should see your healthcare provider if you have tingling or numbness, or if your pain is severe and does not improve with medication and rest. Call her/him immediately if you have difficulty urinating, fever, weakness, pain, numbness in your legs, or unintentional weight loss.
Help prevent neck and back pain
You may help prevent neck and back pain with the following:
- Maintain correct posture while standing, sitting, and sleeping.
- Properly use computers, telephones, and other equipment.
- Practice correct lifting techniques: avoid heavy lifting; when you do lift something, bend your knees, keep your back straight, and then slowly lift your body and the object.
- Exercise regularly. Warm up with stretching exercises before doing back exercises. Learn specific back-strengthening exercises to keep your back muscles strong.
- Do exercises that improve your balance.
- Don’t smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Emotional stress may cause muscle tension, so keep it down.
- Ensure there is enough calcium and Vitamin D in your diet.
When you should consult your healthcare provider
See your healthcare provider if you have:
- Immediate attention is required if you are experiencing weakness in both legs with loss of bowel or bladder control
- Pain after an a fall or injury
- Weakness, tingling, or numbness in your arms or legs
- Severe neck or back pain that does not decrease with medication and rest
- Unintentional weight loss
- Neck and back problems range from minor aches to severe, disabling pain
- The reasons for your pain often cannot be identified.
- See a healthcare provider if you have fever, difficulty urinating, pain, severe pain that does not improve with medication and rest, tingling or numbness, weakness, or numbness in your legs or arms, unintentional weight loss, or pain after a fall.
- Neck and back pain will often improve over time. Consult with your healthcare provider if your pain is not decreasing.
- Use prevention strategies to keep yourself healthy and injury-free.
For chronic, severe, or disabling back pain, try an individualized physical therapy rehabilitation program such as those available at Southwest Physical Therapy.