‘Oh, my aching back!’ 3 steps to eliminate back pain

Health
Woman struggles with back pain.

Back pain is seemingly as universal as the common cold, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it as part of your life.
Dr. Channing Willoughby, who specialized in pain management at The Market Common and Murrells Inlet locations of Tidelands Health Pain Management Services, says there are a variety of strategies and treatments that can help ease your aching back.

Step 1: Wait it out

Most back pain comes from muscle injuries.
“Usually, back pain will start up after a weekend home improvement project or a new exercise regimen,” says Dr. Willoughby, who serves as medical director of pain management at Tidelands Health. “With rest, ice and over-the-counter medications, it will usually improve within a few days.”
Of course, if your back pain is debilitating or you believe you’ve suffered a fracture or other serious injury, seek prompt medical care.

Step 2: Talk to your physician

If your back pain hasn’t improved in a week or two, or if it has become more severe, it’s usually best to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician.
“Primary care physicians can help determine the severity of the issue and start you on appropriate treatment,” says Dr. Willoughby.
He or she will typically recommend a tiered treatment protocol beginning with the most conservative therapies first.

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“You don’t want to start right off with a more aggressive treatment until you’ve tried a more basic one first,” says Dr. Willoughby. “If the simplest, safest treatment reduces your back pain—great, you won’t have to go further.”
A conservative approach usually involves some combination of over-the-counter pain relievers, topical pain ointments, exercises and stretches and preventive measures.

Step 3: Seek a referral

If conservative treatments aren’t helping, you may need to see a physical therapist or a pain specialist. According to Dr. Willoughby, there are four primary methods for treating back pain: therapy, medicine, injections and surgical interventions.
Physical therapists can help you build strength and flexibility in your back, which can help address existing back pain and reduce the risk of future injuries.
Meanwhile, pain specialists can offer many medical treatment options that address back pain in noninvasive or minimally invasive ways.
“People are sometimes afraid to see a pain specialist because they worry they’ll be put on narcotics, but in reality we try to avoid that whenever possible,” says Dr. Willoughby. “We also view surgery as a last resort.”

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The good news is that many people with back pain find relief from pain management treatments such as nerve ablation and injections, both of which are offered through Tidelands Health Pain Management Services.
Interventions such as intrathecal drug delivery, spinal cord stimulation or spinal fusion therapy may be recommended if other treatments don’t work.
Dr. Willoughby points out that even these interventions are far less invasive than they were years ago.
“These days, many treatments are offered on outpatient basis,” he says.

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