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What Is Your Back Pain Telling You?


WebMD Feature from "Good Housekeeping" Magazine

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You may have heard that it's our body's way of sending us a message. But when back pain first arrives, what it tells you may not be the truth -- or, at least, not the whole story.

 

Symptom: A brand-new pain

What you think: "I need tests to find out what's going on"
The reality: You can feel better without seeing the doctor
Your next step: Try self-help tips

Symptom: A sudden pain with a fairly ordinary movement

What you think: "Uh-oh. I shouldn't have done that!"
The reality: You overdid it a few days ago. Stressed muscles only cried out with your latest quick movement
Your next step: Try self-help tips

Symptom: It hurts to move

What you think: "I'd better stay still, or I'll make it worse"
The reality: There's no connection — in most cases, activity will hasten your recovery
Your next step: Start moving and stretching gently as soon as possible. Don't stay in bed more than two days

Symptom: It's worst in early morning

What you think: "I must be sleeping in a weird position"
The reality: Back muscles tend to hurt more at day's end and following activity, not after resting
Your next step: A check for inflammatory problems, such as arthritis, that cause morning pain and stiffness

Symptom: A terrible pain

What you think: "This must be really serious!"
The reality: Even temporary problems like muscle sprains can hurt like crazy
Your next step: Tell your doctor about your pain, and also be sure to report symptoms like leg weakness

The First 48 Hours: Self-Help Tips

You've thrown your back out — #$%?! While the pain may be terrible, if you're lucky, it will be short-lived. Here, simple relief measures to get you back on your feet:

Chill (Then Thaw)
Apply an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas works, too), over a thin shirt or towel, for up to 20 minutes. Or give yourself (or recruit the nearest set of helping hands for) a five-minute ice massage using water frozen in a paper cup with the sides peeled down. Repeat as often as you want, but no more than once an hour. (Ice is a natural pain reliever, and it reduces swelling by causing blood vessels in the area to constrict.) After 48 hours, you want blood flow to increase to help healing, so switch to heat.

Reach for the Meds
Or, if reaching is out of the question, dispatch someone to the medicine chest for an anti-inflammatory — aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). These can be started right away (at the highest dose recommended on the label) to reduce pain and swelling. If you're allergic to these painkillers or they upset your stomach, you can take acetaminophen (Tylenol), but it won't reduce inflammation as effectively. Consult your doctor if you're on other medications or if the OTC pills aren't touching the pain. You may need different or stronger meds, or a muscle relaxant.

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