Low Back Pain

Early Diagnosis and Treatment of 
Back Pain Is Key to Preventing Recurrence


It is estimated that 80% of Americans will experience low back pain some time during their lives. Many of these people will choose to delay treatment hoping the pain will go away. Procrastination is not the best avenue to take when experiencing back pain say specialists in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R).

It is extremely important to treat low back pain at the onset in order to avoid aggravation and compounding the problem. Untreated low back pain can cause changes in your posture, gait, and bearing that may in turn worsen the problem or cause new ones. PM&R physicians, also called physiatrists, are medical specialists dedicated to restoring or maximizing function and self-sufficiency in patients who have physical disability resulting from injury or chronic illness.

Not all back pain is caused by muscle or nerve conditions. There are many different possible causes of back pain such as appendicitis, kidney disease, or urinary tract infections. Back pain can be an early warning sign for one of these more serious conditions that can be effectively treated if caught early on. That's why it's important to see a PM&R physician soon after pain develops.

While every case of low back pain is unique, many are remedied with non-surgical treatments supported by a regime of exercises to strengthen the back and prevent recurrence of the condition.

Don't Gamble With Your Low Back Pain

If you like to play the odds, here is a sure bet. 80 percent of all adults will experience low back pain at some time in their life - so chances are pretty good that if you haven't already been sidelined by it, low back pain could be on the horizon for you. It is the second most common reason for people to visit their primary care physicians.

So if (when!) it does happen to you, what should you do? Wait for it to go away? Maybe you've heard the statistic that 45-50 percent of patients with low back pain improve within a week? Well, that may be true. But, here's the morning line from researchers:

·       Over 40 percent of all patients with low back pain will have persistent complaints of pain one and two years later.

·       62 percent of patients are likely to have one or more relapses during a one-year followup.

·       Continued problems with low back pain are even more likely in patients who wait six to 10 weeks from the first onset of pain before seeking medical care.

Ignore that persistent back pain and it probably WILL come back. If you have the pain for more than two weeks, consider a visit to a PM&R physician.

In a survey on back pain published in New York magazine, patients reported greater long-term relief from low back pain when treated by PM&R physicians than any other medical specialist or healthcare professional, including orthopedists and chiropractors.

The PM&R treatment approach emphasizes comprehensive or "whole" care. PM&R physicians take the whole patient into account, not merely a specific symptom. Then they match treatment goals to a patient's overall functioning and lifestyle.

Low back pain can be triggered by a variety of causes, and it is often difficult for physicians to pinpoint the source during a routine examination. Since back pain can be caused or aggravated by many things - including illness, injury, work environment, and lifestyle - a PM&R physician works to address more than just relieving the immediate symptoms. Their treatment extends to the overall functioning of the patient.

Back pain sidelined Corey Atwell, a high school wrestling and football coach in Vernon Hills, Illinois. After several months with no relief, his wife urged him to see a physician. "The pain had really started to interfere with my work. It hurt just trying to throw a football to the players. Then the pain continued at home."

Atwell visited PM&R physician Dennis Keane, MD, who thoroughly evaluated his condition and ordered x-rays and an MRI. Not only did Keane find the source of the problem, doctor and patient were even able to figure out when the back injury occurred - during a wrestling team practice.

With the source of the problem identified, Keane prescribed medication and physical therapy. Within a few weeks, Atwell was already feeling much better. "I used to wake up in pain almost every night, and then go lay on the living room couch for hours. Now I can sleep through the night. You just don't realize how much you use your back until it hurts to use it."

Don't Take that Back Pain Lying Down

Uh oh, there it is. The first twinges of low back pain. What should you do? First, experiment a little to find which positions are more comfortable for you and decrease some of that pain. Contrary to what you may think, don't just rest. Recent studies have shown that prolonged rest may cause certain kinds of low back pain to worsen because your muscles will weaken with lack of movement or exercise. You can limit your activity, but do not stop it completely. Some PM&R physicians have reported seeing more patients for low back pain in the winter, which they sometimes attribute to our tendency to be "couch potatoes" when cold weather sets in. But remember, don't ignore your back pain. If it persists, consult with a PM&R physician.