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Chronic Back Pain

AMBULATORY CARE:

Chronic back pain

is back pain that lasts 3 months or longer. This may include pain that has not been controlled or does not improve with treatment. Your back pain may cause weakness or pain that spreads to your arms or legs.

Call your doctor if:

  • You have severe pain.
  • You have new numbness, tingling, or weakness, especially in your lower back, legs, arms, or genital area.
  • You lose control of your bladder or bowel movements.
  • You have a fever or sudden weight loss.
  • You have new or worse pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for chronic back pain

may include any of the following:

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Muscle relaxers help decrease muscle spasms and back pain.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Manage your symptoms:

  • Apply ice for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Ice decreases pain and helps prevent tissue damage.
  • Apply heat for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours, or as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • Use massage to loosen tense muscles. Massage may relieve back pain caused by tight muscles. Regular massages may help prevent this kind of back pain.
  • Ask about acupuncture for pain relief. Back pain is sometimes relieved with acupuncture. Talk to your healthcare provider before you get this treatment to make sure it is safe for you.

Other ways to relieve or prevent back pain:

  • Manage stress. Stress can cause back pain or make it worse. Some ways to reduce stress are listening to music, meditating, or using aromatherapy. It may help to talk with a therapist about anything that is causing you stress. Your healthcare provider can give you more information.
  • Stay active as much as you can without causing more pain. Ask your healthcare provider what exercises are right for you. Do not sit or lie down for long periods. This could make your back pain worse. Yoga or similar gentle movements may help relieve pain and tension in your back. Go slowly and do not strain your back as you do any movement.
  • Be careful when you lift heavy objects. Do not lift anything heavy until your pain is gone. Never strain your back when you lift a heavy item. If possible, ask someone to help you.
  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

You may be referred to a sports medicine or spine specialist. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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