CLEVELAND – Lower back pain impacts 540 million people worldwide and is a leading cause of disability.
However, according to a new study, many people wouldn’t have let lower back pain stop them in their tracks if they received the proper treatment.
Santhosh Thomas, D.O., MBA, of Cleveland Clinic did not take part in the study, but said lower back pain is a common problem that can impact anyone.
“We have young adults who come in with lower back pain; we have middle age people and the elderly who come in also,” he said. “It all depends on activity they’ve done. A lot of times, sports injuries can lead to problems for the young adults, or the weekend warriors. For the middle aged folks it’s often related to gardening or travel. For the elderly it’s usually due to a fall.”
Researchers looked at the leading causes of disability in adults worldwide over a 26 year period and found that low back pain was among the top five.
The study showed that low back pain was often treated with prolonged periods of rest and expensive tests such as MRI’s and X-rays.
Dr. Thomas said the problem with this course of action is that many times, these very expensive tests do not provide any more benefit to the injured person.
He also said prolonged periods of rest, meaning more than 48 hours, leads to deconditioning of the muscles, which then makes a person apprehensive to resume activity, thus leading to more injuries.
Also, he said while X-rays and MRI’s can show the anatomy of the back, they cannot tell a doctor what the source of the pain is.
Dr. Thomas said most lower back injuries do not need to be treated in the emergency department and will resolve on their own with a little bit of time and patience.
“If you are able to take anti-inflammatories this can help,” he said. “You can also use ice or heat – some people prefer heat. Rest is okay, but it should not be very prolonged. Ideally about 48 hours of rest is good. Most importantly, you need to modify your activities so that you do not have a reoccurrence of your injury.”
Dr. Thomas said there are certain situations where MRI’s and X-rays might be necessary for lower back pain. Those with a history of cancer, trauma, neurological problems, or are over the age of 50 or under the age of 18 are at higher risk for problems other than muscle strains of the back. Also, those who have had unexplained weight loss, a history of steroid use or pain lasting more than six weeks, should seek care right away.