How to Take an Active Role in Your Spine Health

Man with moving boxes holding his back having painIf you're alive and reading this article, chances are you've experienced some level of back pain in your life. Chronic backaches can be frustrating, especially when the cause isn't obvious. Of course, we all understand when the onset of back pain occurs after a car accident, but it can also be the result of a more gradual series of events such as working at a computer every day or playing sports for many years. 

If you're anything like 80 percent of Americans currently experiencing some level of chronic back pain, you're probably seeking out a specialist to help diagnose and treat it. Congratulations; you're on the right track. Searching for expert help and advice in identifying and treating the source of your pain is important.

While finding the exact source of pain can sometimes be a challenge, it isn't impossible. The key is finding a knowledgeable and experienced physician and being an active participant in your own spine health. A recent study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine Annals found that the way doctors and patients treat back pain has strayed from the original guidelines provided by the medical community. Instead of physicians looking to first start out with treatments like ice and physical therapy, more physicians are now recommending tests, scans, drugs and surgery without an increase in relief or favorable outcomes for patients.

The study also showed that patients themselves are requesting more tests, drugs and surgery rather than good "old fashioned" exercise and less invasive pain management methods. According to a recent Consumer Reports article, many people who sought out help for back pain were disappointed with what the doctor was willing to do to help. So what can you do to be prepared before meeting with a medical professional about your back pain?

In order for the doctor to diagnose you correctly, it's important to give as much information as possible and to be an active participant in all of your medical visits. Some helpful tips:

Be Prepared:

1. Make the time to either write down or take some quick mental notes of your whole body, not just your back. Pain can be psychological and can manifest itself in many different ways.

2. Go back to the beginning. Think about when your pain began. Were you sitting at your desk or were you playing a round of golf? What did you feel? A pop? A warming sensation? Tingling in a leg? Share as many details as possible with your doctor.

3. Consider your emotions, including stress triggers in your life. Marriage? Divorce? Child headed off to college? Major life changes can affect the whole body, including the spine.

4. Bring a buddy. Often times bringing along a friend or family member can give the doctor a better idea as to what is causing your pain. Your loved one might remember a small trip you made outside a restaurant or can help recount a bad accident.

5. Your medical history matters. Is there a pattern involved when your back pain occurs? Do you have any prior medical conditions - even if they don't seem to be related to your pain? Have you already tried physical therapy or other conservative pain relief efforts and not had any success? Also tell the doctor about any medications, supplements, vitamins and recreational habits you partake in. Unexplained weight loss, fever, change in urination or bowel habits or a history of cancer should also be disclosed and discussed.

Expect to Do Some Work:

When you meet with your physician, unless you are in debilitating pain, expect it to be an active visit. The doctor may have you:

  • Sit, stand or walk
  • Bend forward, backward or to the side
  • Lift your legs straight up while lying down. *Important note: make sure to tell your doctor if you experience any numbness or tingling pain while completing these tasks.

Be Flexible:

Depending on your physician's assessment, your initial treatment may take time, require you to play an active role, and/or require you to possibly try a few different treatment options. 

In order to be satisfied with your care, you may also want to ask the doctor some questions during your visit. For example:

  • What's the most likely cause of my back pain?
  • What do you expect for the duration of my treatment?
  • What self-care tactics can I do to assist in my healing?
  • Do I need a specialist? (If you're seeing a general practitioner)

Most doctors want the best outcome for you. When your quality of life has deteriorated, or when many attempts to relieve pain have proven unsuccessful, then perhaps it is time to look at stronger options to relieve the pain. Ultimately, we want you to live a happy, fulfilling like that is pain free and we will work with you to make sure you're satisfied with your level of care. 

While you're waiting to see your doctor, it's important to stay patient and as active as possible. Apply heat or ice to improve blood flow, and take over-the-counter medication as directed. If a certain activity aggravates your pain, by all means try to avoid or modify the activity until you can get professional help.