Back pain is one of the most common causes of discomfort and disability. Morbidity studies in general practice have shown that the consultation rate for back pain has risen in the past 10 years. Estimates of the extent of back pain among the general population suggest that the lifetime occurrence is similar in both men and women with 4 out of 5 adults experiencing some form of back pain during their lives. For some people, back pain may last for a short period of time whereas for others it may be more persistent. The onset of back pain generally occurs between the ages of 30 and 50 ,however, the prevalence of persistent back pain increases with age.

According to a Canadian study, the best way to treat chronic lower back pain is with regular exercise. Dr. Jill Hayden, a research fellow at the Toronto-based Institute for Work & Health, advocates remaining active as the most effective form of management for back pain, both in the short and long term. According to her research, individually tailored, supervised exercise regimes work best. “Supervision ensures compliance,” Dr. Hayden said. “And it’s doing exercise regularly that really makes a difference.” In fact, regular daily activity is as effective for easing back pain as painkillers, massage and other therapies, and when a patient exercises regularly, the impact of those other therapies also increases, the study found.

The study revealed that exercise worked best for those with chronic conditions and the longer a person stuck with an exercise regime, the more pain relief it provided. For those with acute back pain (lasting less than 6 weeks), exercise provided marginally more relief than inactivity.

Here are a few more tips on how to care for a sore back:

If the pain is sudden and sharp…

  1. Use ICE for the first 24 – 48 hours in 10 min applications.
  2. DO NOT stretch (especially if there is muscle spasm).
  3. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories (eg. ibuprophen) will decrease pain and speed healing.

As the pain lessens or if its onset is slow and achy…

  1. Use HEAT in the form of a hot water bottle, heating pad or a warm bath/shower.
  2. Use HEAT combined with ICE in alternating applications (ie. 5 min heat, 2 min ice and repeat) but always end with ice. This is especially useful if there is still inflammation. When in doubt, ICE!
  3. Do gentle, pain-free movement as much as possible.
  4. Do gentle, pain-free stretching especially after activity and when muscles feel stiff (eg. after waking up).

IMPORTANT: Back pain can have many causes from a simple strain to disc herniation, nerve impingement or a progressive disease and how it’s treatment is approached depends on many factors. The above guidelines are just that – guidelines – and offer one approach to the less serious causes of back pain. Please seek out the advice of a health professional if you’re unsure or if pain worsens/persists.

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