Back pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work and is a leading cause of disability in the United States. It accounts for approximately 76 million doctors visits every year. Unfortunately, most traditional treatment options for back pain are less than ideal. Treatment ranges from pain relief medications to surgery and antidepressants. Obviously every treatment plan comes with some risks, but some are more obvious than others. They also only aim to control the symptoms. This leaves patients wondering what, if any, noninvasive back pain relief options exist?
But first, let’s discuss the risks of the most common back pain relief treatments:
Acetaminophen, or Tylenol, is a pain reliever and fever reducer. It is available without a prescription in almost every grocery and convenience store. Doctors often recommend patients use acetaminophen when suffering from mild back pain because it is the safest pain reliever on the market. But, acetaminophen has many hidden risks.
Excessive or long term use of acetaminophen causes liver damage. Drinking alcohol increases this risk. Combined with warfarin (Coumadin), acetaminophen may increase the risk of bleeding. It is also a common additive in other over the counter (OTC) medicines. This means patients often take more than the recommended dose without realizing it.
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs. These are a classification of drug that relieve pain, reduce fever, and relieve inflammation. Aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), and naproxen (Aleve) are NSAIDs. Like acetaminophen, NSAIDs are an OTC medication sold in most grocery and convenience stores. They are also available in prescription strengths and are present in other medications. The FDA cautions against the long term or excessive use of NSAIDs as it can cause serious side effects. Side effects include ulcers, high blood pressure, bleeding in the stomach, and kidney problems. Long term use of NSAIDs also increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. NSAIDs may increase your risk even with short term use.
When back pain is not well controlled by milder medications, your doctor may prescribe something stronger. The most effective pain relief drugs are opioids. These include drugs like oxycodone (Oxycontin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) and work by blocking pain signals to the brain. However, they come with a long list of possible side effects. Even short term use can cause constipation, slowed reactions, and slowed breathing. When paired with alcohol or certain medications even a single use can be fatal. Long term or excessive use increases these risks.
Additionally, patients on prescription pain meds are at greater risk of dependency and addiction. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 2 million people battled opioid addiction in 2018. Unsurprisingly, addicts report that their first exposure to opiates was through prescription medications. As a result, doctors are more cautious about prescribing them. However, they remain one of the most common courses of treatment for patients suffering from long term back pain.
Interestingly, certain antidepressants have the effect of relieving some types of chronic back pain. These usually take the form of tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline. These medications work by affecting the noradrenaline and serotonin found in nerves. This reduces pain signals to the brain and affects the way it perceives discomfort. Some of the most common side effects include drowsiness, blurred vision, and dizziness. Patients also report experiencing constipation, dry mouth, and weight gain.
Surgery for back pain relief is less common now than it used to be. However, it remains the last resort treatment option for difficult cases. This means that the patient’s condition is not improving or continues to worsen. In such cases their pain is not well controlled by prescription medications. Surgical correction is most likely if you have a structural defect, like spinal stenosis or a herniated disc. Typical risks of surgery include infection, bleeding, blood clots, heart attack, and stroke. Due to its proximity to the spinal cord, back surgery also carries a risk of mild to severe nerve damage. Damage to the spinal cords can result in the following:
Loss of bowel or bladder control
Young, healthy patients can expect a recovery period of as little as 4 – 6 weeks. Unfortunately, for most patients full recovery often takes several months. Illness, lifestyle, general health, infection, and a variety of other factors can complicate the recovery process. Spine surgery is also incredibly painful. Most spinal surgery patients will receive a prescription for pain medications. This increases their risk of dependency and addiction.
The treatment options listed above all focus almost entirely on treating pain. Consequently, they only relieve the symptoms temporarily because they fail to address the root cause.
Most back pain is the result of spinal compression or misalignment due to poor posture or injury. Noninvasive back pain relief options enable the body to heal itself by restoring proper alignment and function to the spine. At Epic Healthcare & Physical Medicine we achieve this through a multi-discipline approach.
Chiropractic medicine focuses on restoring proper function to the central nervous system. When compressed, nerves can lose up to 60% of their original functionality. This compression occurs when the vertebrae are out of alignment. The skilled application of pressure on the spine helps to release vertebrae that are stuck in an incorrect position. Doing this relieves pressure and allows inflamed nerves to heal, restoring normal function.
Physical Rehabilitation is a key component in proper chiropractic care. When nerves lose function so do the muscles they connected to. The surrounding muscle groups must then work harder to compensate. Imbalances in muscle strength cause the buildup of scar tissue and pressure points. Releasing tension from these muscle groups allows the chiropractor better access to the spine. Additionally, correcting these imbalances helps to maintain proper posture, preventing future injury.
Regenerative medicine focuses on unlocking the body’s natural ability to heal itself. When tissues become damaged the body can only do so much to heal them. Applying unspecialized stem cells allows damaged tissues to regenerate and restore lost function. Stem cell therapy can even regrow damaged cartilage and repair nerves.