When back pain is more than just pain

"Ouch, my back is killing me!" How many times have you heard someone say this or even said it yourself?...

"Ouch, my back is killing me!" How many times have you heard someone say this or even said it yourself? Back pain is the most common type of pain next to headaches and is the number one cause of work absences in the UK. It's the third costliest health condition next to heart disease and cancer. Americans pay around $15 billion every year for medical care and disability. In this country, pain of the low back is one of the most common conditions and accounts for more than 6 million cases annually.

Though people of any age can suffer from this, the most common age is between 35 and 55. But how does one know if their pain is just "a pain" or something more serious?

Some facts on pain of the back

Upper back: The upper back starts at the neck and extends to the middle part of the back. It also covers the thoracic spine.

Lower back: The lower back extends from to the center of the back, and it includes groin, abdomen, buttock, and thighs

Most pain in the back is not serious; causes can include sleeping the wrong way, lifting a heavy object or a fall. These should resolve themselves in just a few days. Taking aspirin, acetaminophen or an over-the-counter NSAID, such as naproxen, should help the pain. There are also several pain relief creams on the market that can help.

A muscle strain is a bit more serious, although the treatment is along the same lines. A doctor may recommend rest or alternating ice and heat, and may brace the muscle group to keep more damage from being done. The body can take weeks to several months to repair itself from a muscle strain. Your physician may prescribe a muscle relaxant along with narcotic pain medication to help you deal with the pain. Sometimes a cortisone injection or an oral dose of corticosteroids is necessary.

When should I see a chiropractor?

Back pain may continue for months without any major damage being done, but sometimes there are structural issues causing the pain. If you begin to have pain radiating down the leg or down the arms, or numbness, tingling or loss of feeling, you may have a pinched nerve. Other structural issues may include stenosis (narrowing) of the spine, scoliosis or lordosis. These conditions may need to be corrected through surgery, though chiropractic care may help.

A pinched nerve can be caused from several sources along the spine. A Doctor of Chiropractic Care will order a series of tests to find the source of the pain. Such tests could include an X-ray, CT scan or MRI. If the doctor finds that the cause is a pinched nerve, there are several treatments available depending on the severity and where the nerve is. Physical therapy is usually the first route, and surgery is usually the last choice of physicians. Chiropractic doctors may offer massage therapy along with physical therapy in their office.

A chiropractor should be versed in decompression therapy. One sort of decompression is Vax-D. This is similar to the old form of traction with some new techniques. There are several types of decompression treatments out there, and Vax-D is just one sort. Decompression helps treat bulging or herniated discs, but it is not for everyone.

What should I look for in a chiropractor?

The most important factor in choosing an Atlanta-area chiropractor is finding one who specializes in treating the condition you are dealing with. Many conditions can cause pain in the back, such as running, repetitive motions and automobile accidents. Different causes call for different treatments. Some chiropractic clinics focus on sports medicine while others on elder care. If you are pregnant or seeking care for children, you will definitely want to ask the staff if the doctor has certification in this sort of treatment. Your insurance company also can tell you if the chiropractor is reputable and certified. Ask your general practitioner for a referral if necessary.

One consideration in choosing a chiropractor, or any doctor for that matter, is the cleanliness of the office and exam rooms. Infections from a contaminated exam table or the equipment in a chiropractor's office are possible. Never go to a doctor who doesn't keep up a certain standard of hygiene. Report their office to the health department or medical board if you feel the conditions call for this action.

Another issue is whether the doctor accepts insurance and if your insurance covers chiropractic care. Some insurance companies consider this alternative medicine and will not cover treatment or will only cover partial payment. When speaking to the staff, find out how they handle insurance claims and billing. Each chiropractor is different in the way they accept payment.

One last important issue is convenience of treatment. How close is the office to your home or business? Do they offer after-hours appointments? How many times a week is treatment required? If the appointments and office are not convenient, you are less likely to follow through with the series of adjustments needed to help overcome the pain.

Choosing a chiropractor comes down to finding someone who you're comfortable with and whom you trust. You want someone who is well-trained, experienced and ethical.

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