SALT LAKE CITY — Most people have some type of back pain. In fact, it is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work.
The causes behind back pain can vary from stress to job type to genetics. Here are a few tips on determining what's causing your pain and how you can treat it.
Upper back pain
If the pain is located in your upper back and shoulders, it is probably stress-related. When you're stressed, the muscles in your neck and shoulders tighten without your knowledge, so the resulting pain can be a bit confusing.
If you are under a lot of stress at home or work, you have to take a break. Some people meditate, do yoga stretches or go for a brief walk; it doesn't matter what you do, but you need to reduce the stress before the pain will go away.
Usually upper back pain is temporary, but some people do end up needing surgery. Muscle relaxers, anti-inflammatory medication, pain medication and applying heat to the affected area will usually reduce the pain.
Middle back pain
If you have pain in the middle of your back, just above your lower ribs, you could have a kidney infection or other kidney problems. Middle back pain is rarely a cause of back injury, so consult your doctor.
Lower back pain
Lower back pain is the most common type of back pain and has many causes. It could be hereditary — with a family component of weak backs — or related to the type of work you do. But heavily lifting is the most common cause of this type of pain. Lifting and twisting is almost a guarantee that our back will pay the price. Good body mechanics and support are key to keeping your lower back in good condition.
If you have pain in your lower back, rest is the key. But there is such a thing as too much rest. Staying in bed for more than one or two days can actually make your back pain worse. Lying down causes the back muscles to weaken, which will lead to more pain when you start using them again.
As with upper back pain, over-the-counter medications and heat will also provide relief.
If you have severe back pain you need to see your doctor, especially if you start to feel numbness in one leg that rotates from the outside of your thigh to the inside of your thigh toward your knee. If you let it go too long, you could set yourself up for permanent nerve damage.
Long-term treatment options
Surgery: If your doctor does recommend surgery, know that it in most cases it will not cure the pain. Surgery helps to reduce back pain and make it more manageable, but you will always have some pain.
Strong prescription drugs: Narcotics and muscle relaxers can help relieve back pain but are a major concern because of their addictive nature. Be cautious with chronic use of narcotics or muscle relaxers for your back pain.
Chiropractic care: Chiropractic care is a great solution for some, but it could cause permanent damage if not done correctly. Do your research when choosing a good chiropractor.
Exercise: It is also very important to exercise the muscles that support your neck, upper and lower back. As you age, your muscles will weaken without exercise. That is one of the reason people experience more back pain in their middle to late years of life.
Suzanne Carlile, "Nurse Suzy," has been a nurse since 1982. Her main focus is critical care and nursing education. She holds a master's degree in nursing, is a Certified Emergency Nurse, and a member of NNSDO Intermountain West Chapter.