constipation, reflux, heartburn, cramping, nausea, and vomiting. One in four people also develop problems with addiction or other substance abuse issues, so Consumer Reports recommends avoiding narcotics for low back pain.
When should I see the doctor?
According to the Mayo Clinic, most people with sprains or strains can safely wait four to six weeks before calling the doctor. The pain will probably disappear long before you have to make an appointment. Some cases call for quicker action. If you don’t notice any improvement at all after three days, or if you have a fever, call a doctor for advice.
You should also call your doctor promptly for back pain if you’re experiencing back pain for the first time after age 50, if you’ve had a serious injury, or if you’ve experienced unexplained weight loss. Constant, intense pain or pain that spreads down a leg or causes weakness or numbness in a leg is also a reason to call your doctor. These are all warning signs that you may have something more than a simple back strain or sprain.
What treatments can a doctor provide?
First of all, your doctor will try to understand the source of your pain. Sprains and strains won’t show up on x-rays or any other test, but your symptoms can paint a fairly clear picture. If your pain has lasted for several weeks without a hint of improvement, your doctor may order an x-ray or a high-tech imaging test to check for herniated disks or other injuries. Such tests can also detect or rule out spinal infections and cancer.
Your doctor may prescribe stronger versions of NSAIDs to help control your pain. Muscle relaxants help some patients, but they generally don’t work any better than NSAIDs and often cause drowsiness.
If your doctor recommends surgery, you need to know what it is for. Be sure to get a second opinion if necessary. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, surgery has never been shown to ease the pain caused by back sprains or strains, so your doctor would be highly unlikely to recommend it if those are the only complication.
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How can I prevent back sprains and strains?
Once you’ve had an episode of back pain, the pain is likely to come back. Your job is to make sure the attacks are as brief and as far apart as possible. If you lift heavy objects, let your legs, not your back, do the work.
Ask your doctor about exercises that can strengthen weak back muscles. A strengthening and stretching program will help keep the muscles used for lifting in good shape and less vulnerable to strain. For extra protection, keep a straight posture when standing or sitting.
In short, don’t let that strain in your back become a strain on your life.