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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.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have severe pain.
  • You have new signs of numbness, tingling, or weakness, especially in your lower back, legs, arms, or genital area.
  • You lose control of your bladder or bowel movements.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Muscle relaxers help decrease muscle spasms and back pain.
  • 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 chronic back pain:

  • Apply heat on your back for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms.
  • 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. Avoid heavy lifting until your pain is gone.
  • Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist teaches 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.

Further information

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

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