Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints a person can have – in fact, it’s estimated that between 75 and 80 percent of all Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Though your natural first response to back pain may be to reach for whatever pain medication you have close at hand, a new study has revealed that those nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that we all turn to do surprisingly little to relieve back pain.
According to a recently-published study conducted by researchers from Australia’s George Institute for Global Health, only one out of every six people who took NSAIDs found that it provided them with significant relief. Of greater concern, the scientists who reviewed retrospective clinical studies involving over 6,000 patients found that whether they took naproxen, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, people were much more likely to suffer negative side effects when they took those drugs – and some of those side effects were serious.
The researchers found that people who took the pain medications had a 2.5 times greater chance of having stomach problems including bleeding and ulcers regardless of whether the drugs that they took were prescribed or available over-the-counter.
In taking a closer look at why the popular medications aren’t providing the relief that patients are seeking, spine surgeons point out that not all back pain is caused by the same thing – and that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are only designed to address inflammation. If a patient is suffering from arthritis or another inflammatory condition then it is likely that they will help, but if you are struggling with a nerve-related condition like sciatica, the drugs probably won’t do a thing, and may be causing additional problems.
Even those who do have inflammatory conditions are at risk for adverse effects from medication. That’s why spine surgeons tend to recommend oral steroids, which can be more effective, as well as alternative therapies and protocols that can provide a more sustainable answer.
For those who want to find a back pain answer that does not involve medication, answers abound. Doctors suggest that using either heat or ice can provide a surprising amount of relief, and that patients should experiment to find which works best for them. Other options include both exercise and physical therapy. The goal of both is to strengthen the various muscles that support and surround the spine.
For many, losing excess weight can also alleviate some of the stress by reducing the load that the spine has to support. Stretching exercises have also been shown to provide tremendous benefits, as by lengthening the muscles you are able to release tension and reduce spasms. Yoga and Pilates classes are often extremely helpful, though before beginning any type of exercise program it’s a good idea to check with your spine surgeon to make sure that the specific movements are not going to exacerbate your problem.
If these approaches don’t work, a spine surgeon can offer you additional therapies that can provide you with a sustainable, effective answer. To set up a consultation, contact our office today.