You wake up with it. You go to sleep with it. Chronic pain, by definition, doesn’t go away. Millions of people live with chronic back or neck pain every day. What is a chronic pain? It is technically defined as pain that persists for 12 weeks or longer—even after the pain is no longer acute (short-term, severe pain) or the injury has healed. Of course, there are many causes of chronic pain that can affect any level of the spine—cervical (neck), mid back (thoracic), low back (lumbar), sacral (sacrum) or a combination of levels (eg, lumbosacral).
Obtaining an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your back or neck pain is essential to the outcome of your treatment plan. Depending on the severity and cause of your chronic pain, you may need to see different specialists in addition to your primary care physician—pain medicine specialist, orthopaedic spine surgeon, neurosurgeon, physiatrist, rheumatologist, physical therapist and others. Over time your chronic pain may change and need to be reevaluated, which may affect the way it is managed.
Your chronic back or neck pain treatment usually includes a combination of therapies to maximize good results.
Some of the treatments your doctor recommends and prescribes may include:
- Physical Therapy: Stretching and strengthening muscles is very important in the treatment of chronic back or neck pain. Your physical therapy may include ice, heat, transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), ultrasound, and myofascial release.
- Chiropractic Care: Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor may recommend chiropractic care. Studies have shown that two weeks of daily manipulation by a chiropractor can bring about significant improvement in some patients with chronic low back pain and referred leg pain.
- Medications: There are many different prescription medications to treat pain, inflammation, muscle spasms, and neuropathic pain. Furthermore, there are drugs to treat conditions that often accompany chronic pain, including drugs to help you sleep, relieve depression, and reduce anxiety.
- Procedures: Your doctor may recommend spinal injections, a spinal cord stimulator, drug pump, or spine surgery. If you are unsure about the treatment plan recommended, you can obtain a second opinion.
- Coping skills: Never underestimate the power of the mind. Your mood and psychological outlook can greatly affect your level of pain. Check with a trained specialist to learn relaxation and coping skills.
- Complementary Treatments: Many doctors recommend acupuncture and other forms of traditional Chinese medicine. Talk to your doctor about these options.
A few words about …. age, fitness, body weight
You can’t stop aging or its effects, but you probably have some control over your fitness level and body weight. While you can’t stop the clock on the cellular changes that are known to accompany aging—such as loss of muscle mass and/or bone density—you can take small steps today to build a stronger you tomorrow.
It’s understood that patients with chronic back or neck pain may not feel like being active, going to the gym or even following a home exercise program. However, being active can help chronic pain because during exercise your body releases endorphins—your body’s natural painkiller.
Furthermore, by teaming up with your doctor and/or physical therapist you can start to build strong abdominal muscles—essential to your body’s core strength that helps support your spine. Several studies demonstrate that low-impact aerobic exercise is effective in maintaining the structural integrity of the intervertebral discs in the lower spine, which can lessen chronic back pain.
Did you know that by losing even 5 to 10 pounds you can reduce back pain? It’s true. Carrying around extra weight translates to added stress to the lower back that can exacerbate pain.
In many cases, early and aggressive treatment of chronic back or neck pain can make a life-changing difference. But remember that knowledge is power: Be sure you understand your options before deciding which path to take.