The numbers don’t lie – back pain is one of the most commonly reported reasons for missed work.
For anyone who has dealt with or managed chronic back pain from an injury, they understand why. The aching, radiating pain that sets up shop from many common back conditions can make it difficult to complete simple tasks and get quality rest, let alone commute into work and focus once you’re there.
When these symptoms compound over time and don’t go away, it can be the cause of some major life changes – and not the positive kinds. Perhaps what started as a seemingly small back strain has only picked up momentum as time has passed. Has surgery or other invasive methods begun to look like your only answer for relief? When should you look into disability? And where the heck do you go from here?
If you’ve found yourself struggling with severe back pain that feels never-ending or chronic, we know just how scary this can feel. This article is for you. Read on as we dive a bit deeper into the most common types of back conditions that can cause chronic pain after injury, basic back health exercises you can do at home, plus treatment options— including when it’s appropriate to explore the disability option.
Common Back Conditions
A crucial component to understanding your back pain is a proper diagnosis; this means working with a medical professional. If you’re experiencing ongoing back pain, do your body a favor and consult with a physician as soon as you can. Knowledge is power! And, in this case, it’s also how you figure out the best plan of action to treat not only your symptoms but the root cause of your pain.
Common conditions that can lead to chronic back pain include:
Tingling, pain, feelings of numbness, and muscle weakness in the back. These are all symptoms of spinal stenosis, and if this is indeed your diagnosis, these symptoms oftentimes get worse as time passes.
So, what is spinal stenosis anyway? Let’s get technical for a minute: spinal stenosis is the diagnosis for a narrowing of spaces within your spine. This narrowing then puts pressure on the nerves that travel up and down the spine, hence the feelings of tingling and numbness. It’s caused most often by wear-and-tear over time, although a herniated disc can also contribute to this diagnosis.
Did you know that osteoarthritis is the most common arthritis worldwide?
Similar to spinal stenosis, it is most commonly a wear-and-tear diagnosis, resulting from damage that has occurred over time. Osteoarthritis symptoms set-in when the cartilage that acts as a protective barrier and cushion at the ends of your bones wears down – and, trust us, that bone-on-bone feeling isn’t too pleasant. Patients with osteoarthritis most commonly feel symptoms in their spine, hands, knees, hips, and feet, although it can affect almost any joint.
Disc Injuries: Degenerative Or Herniated
Disc injuries can also be the cause of stubborn back pain. You see, the vertebrae that stack to make up our spine all have small pads between them, called “discs.” They serve as little shock absorbers to help protect our spine during day-to-day and dynamic movement. These discs are made up of a tougher outer cartilage ring and a softer, gel-like center.
When a disc herniates, the soft-center portion is pushed through the outer cartilage edge. A degenerative disc, on the other hand, is one that becomes worn down over time. In both situations, the breakdown of these shock absorbers can mean significant back pain.
A fracture never feels exactly pleasant, but fractures within the spine can be especially painful. Compression fractures in your vertebrae happen when the bones weaken to the point of crumbling. These fractures not only induce pain, but can also contribute to poor posture, and more of a hunched carry of your upper body.
Sciatica is another common cause of back pain. The sciatic nerve branches from your lower back, extends down through your hips and buttocks, and down your legs. So, when this nerve becomes pinched, (a herniated disc or an abnormal bone growth on your vertebrae can do the trick) it can shoot pain from your lower back, all the way down your legs. Yikes. Sciatic nerve pain can feel achy or sharp, and sometimes like an electric shock.
Can I Treat My Injury At Home?
We’ll preface this section by saying that we implore you to work with a medical professional if you’re experiencing ongoing back pain. And, you should always be sure to pass any new exercises their way first, to make sure that they’re appropriate for your specific injury.
That said, home care and treatment can help to improve general back health, increase mobility, and decrease inflammation.
You Are What You Eat
When your body is dealing with chronic pain response, it’s best to try to get inflammation in general under control as much as possible. Your diet can actually play a big role here! Don’t worry – this doesn’t mean some intense fad diet, but rather making a concerted effort to eat more produce and real food, and less processed food. Simple enough, right?
Alternate Ice and Heat
Many people have experienced significant relief from alternating ice and heat on the affected area of the back, targeting the inflammation and thereby reducing the pain. A note of caution– always make sure there is at least a small barrier (like a thin towel) between the ice or heat source and your skin to prevent irritation.
Arms Overhead Exercise
For this exercise, try lying with your back to the floor, and both of your knees bent. Keeping your back flat against the ground, slowly lift your arms overhead in a V formation. Tap the ground overhead, and then slowly bring them back to your sides. Repeat 5-10 times.
Cat / Cow Exercise
This is a great exercise to do in the morning after waking up, and in the evening before bed. Start on your hands and knees with your back in a neutral position. Drop your belly and lift your head slowly while arching your back downwards, before reversing the motion to lift your midsection, and arch your back upwards. Try taking a deep breath in while arching down, and exhaling while arching up. Continue this motion slowly, 5-10 times.
When Is It Right To Seek Disability?
Seeking disability is admittedly one of the last resorts when dealing with a back injury; however, it can be the right move for some people who are truly unable to work. The problem is that proving disability for certain conditions can be more difficult, back pain being one of them.
If you do choose to explore disability, keep in mind that proper documentation from medical professionals is going to be key. You’ll want to demonstrate the steps that you have taken to get care to resolve your injury, including treatment, number of doctor visits, and a professional’s opinion or statement of how you are limited medically in your current state.
This is where consulting with, and obtaining notes from, a doctor who specializes in back injury and care can become even more important. Notes from a chiropractic source may speak more clearly to the ongoing nature of your back injury.
The Role Of Chiropractic In Caring For Back Injury
Chiropractic care, in general, is a great way to stay on top of overall health and wellness and can be especially crucial with back-related injuries, especially if you’re concerned about disability and/or fear it may be in your future. The gentle chiropractic adjustments of the spine, neck, and extremities help to realign your body and provide relief to your entire system. These adjustments also serve to decrease inflammation, relieve pressure, reduce nerve irritability, and ultimately allow your entire body and immune system to communicate and function better.
By working consistent chiropractic care into your routine, you’re providing a great service to your body by treating the root cause of your symptoms with a conservative care approach.
Prioritize your health. Take care of your body. Schedule your appointment online or call (949) 649-8790.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for in-person advice or care from a medical professional.