Chronic back pain is easy to dismiss as osteoarthritis or a lingering injury, which can lead to prolonged pain or misdiagnosis. But before you consider significant medical intervention, such as surgery, to alleviate your back pain, be proactive and make sure other underlying causes have been ruled out.
Change Your Lifestyle
Parts of your lifestyle can contribute to or exacerbate chronic back pain, and they are easily overlooked. You might notice you have put on weight recently or are sitting in front of the computer more often than before. Making simple modifications to your lifestyle might help improve back pain. It can be difficult to determine if weight or inactivity are contributing to pain, because back pain can hinder your activities.
Start with small changes, such as improving your diet by focusing more on lean proteins and less on carbohydrates and processed foods. Even if you cannot engage in regular exercise, you should see changes in your weight as long as you are consuming fewer calories. Sometimes shedding 10 or 15 pounds can make back pain less intrusive and encourage you to maintain a healthier lifestyle.
Consider All Symptoms
Although your main focus might be back pain, make sure you are considering other symptoms you may experience and discuss them with your doctor. Autoimmune diseases can masquerade as back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis or rheumatoid arthritis. Consider other joints where you may experience pain or stiffness, such as your ribs or hips. Ankylosing spondylitis affects the central skeleton and can happen to anyone but is more common in young males. Vague symptoms in conjunction with ongoing back pain may seem unrelated but can be indicative of a systemic disease.
Women need to address other concerns with ongoing back pain. Since the reproductive organs can contribute to pressure on the spine, you may have an underlying gynecological problem. It is a good idea to speak with your gynecologist, especially if you notice changes in your menstrual cycle or unusual abdominal bloating in conjunction with back pain. Tumors, an enlarged uterus, or ovarian cysts can also cause ongoing back pain.
Integrate Non-Medication Treatments
No matter your current treatment plan for chronic back pain, ask about treatments you can use instead of or in combination with medications. Chiropractic medicine and physical therapy are common forms of treatment used to help reduce back pain without medication. Both types of treatment may help you discover functional issues that can cause your back pain or make it worse. For example, addressing alignment problems or being retrained to walk differently might place less stress on your back. Although seeing a chiropractor or physical therapist may not alleviate the problem, many people find that integrating other forms of treatment can make standard medical treatments more effective.
Ask About Exploratory Procedures
If your doctor believes your back pain is caused by problems with the vertebrae in your lower back and thinks you would benefit from spinal fusion, a simple exploratory procedure could help differentiate between conditions with similar symptoms. For example, sacroiliac joint dysfunction can often be confused with low back pain and a spinal fusion will not eliminate the problem. Ask your doctor if you can have a corticosteroid shot in the sacroiliac joints. If you experience remission of your back pain, the problem is caused by your sacroiliac joints, not your spine. Based on the results of the injection, you and your doctor can be more confident that your treatment plan is targeting the real problem.
Although old injuries or osteoarthritis are common reasons to have chronic back pain, there are also many other conditions that are easily overlooked. When you are in the process of finding the underlying cause, consider lifestyle changes you can make and ask your doctor to consider less common underlying problems.