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Chronic Back Pain? Learn About Your Options

Back pain ranks as one of the leading causes of disability. It often starts with minor discomfort that gradually spreads until the pain becomes unbearable. In other cases, genetic- or age-related issues may lead to a quicker and painful degeneration. Regardless of the cause, back pain must be treated aggressively to prevent it from reducing quality of life and interrupting important activities. That’s why Subach Spinal Solutions in Arlington, Virginia works so hard to battle chronic back pain.

Back pain sufferers have many options. Minor cases may respond to simple remedies. For example, low-grade back pain may improve with ice/heat therapy, massage and stretching. As cases grow in severity, intensive treatments, such as physical therapy, injections and prescription painkillers become important. Often, these treatments provide only temporary relief, and surgery becomes the optimal way to end chronic back pain for good.

Combating Chronic Back Pain With Simple Remedies

If you are suffering from back pain that is minor or just beginning, it may not be too late to combat back pain without medication. The key is taking action right away. Like many conditions, lower back pain is often progressive. If ignored, progressive conditions can deteriorate to the point where significant pain and disability result, requiring treatments ranging from medication to surgery. However, when treated promptly, progressive conditions are sometimes reversible.

What Causes It

Most back pain results from inflammation or strain placed on the joints and muscles that support the spine. Whether to use hot or cold therapy depends on the type of injury. Fresh injuries are prone to swelling, so ice should be used to combat inflammation. Tight and pulled muscles respond to heat, which loosens them so they can function with improved range of motion.

You can get started on treating back pain right now! By applying useful home remedies and practicing exercises that target the painful region, immediate relief often results. If back pain becomes chronic or debilitating, be sure to see a physician as soon as possible. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner you can stop back pain from affecting your life.


Hot Therapy

Often, back pain starts with tight, pulled or knotted muscles around the spine. As the tightening, pulling or knotting progresses, the pain intensifies and may even spread. Heat therapy is the best option for these types of back pain because it relaxes the tight and strained muscles while stimulating blood flow, which is a key component of healing.

To locate the ideal areas to place the heat, run your fingers (or have someone do it for you) up and down your spine. Search for bulges or areas of pain. Once located, apply a hot water bottle, heating pad or another warming source to the affected area. For minor strains, apply heat 20-30 minutes per session. Severe strains require 20-120 minutes.

In addition to local heat therapy, systemic heat therapy provides therapeutic benefits and improves state of mind. Systemic heat therapy simply involves heating the whole body in a jacuzzi or steam bath. Even a long, hot shower can provide back pain relief and create a feeling of well-being.

Cold Therapy

Fresh injuries need cold therapy as soon as possible. Because new injuries are in the inflammation process, applying ice is essential. It’s one of the best ways to decrease the inflammation, which leads to less pain and faster healing. Fresh injuries are those that are inflamed, hot and red, bruised or sensitive to the touch. After a fresh back injury, apply ice to the affected area of the spine for 20 minutes per session.

Often, back injuries last longer than we would like and experience occasional inflammation. In these cases, ice can be a great pain reliever and should be applied as necessary.


Stretch the Hamstrings

It may seem counterintuitive, but many cases of back pain start with tight hamstrings. The hamstrings connect to the pelvis, and when they are too tight, they restrict pelvic movement. That restriction places pressure on the lower back and causes deteriorating posture, resulting in pain.

To remedy tight hamstrings, stretch them several times per day. To complete toe touches, place your knees shoulder length apart and bend slightly while leaning down. Stop when you feel your back and leg muscles stretching and hold for several seconds. With tight hamstrings, touching the toes is impossible. Just stretch as far as you are able without straining. Over time, flexibility will improve, and one day you may be able to touch those toes!

Sleep Well

Sleeping well is often overlooked in maintaining good health, but studies show that people experience less pain when they sleep the recommended amount each night. For those with back pain, this can often present a challenge.

Lower or upper back discomfort makes it hard to sleep. To reduce pain and sleep well, find a comfortable sleeping position. If you are a side sleeper, place a pillow between your knees and your feet on top of each other. If sleeping on your back, place a pillow beneath your knees.

Exercise Regularly

Some cases of chronic back pain preclude exercise, but they are the minority. In most situations, regular exercise helps reduce symptoms and loosens muscles. In fact, long periods of inactivity can exacerbate back pain.

Experts recognize that exercise provides numerous benefits for the spinal structure and its surrounding tissues. For example, exercise enhances the transfer of fluids between discs, which enriches them with key nutrients. Exercise also strengthens the muscles and tendons surrounding the spine, helping them to better support it while decreasing inflammation.

What to Do

The best choice of exercise depends on the person. Those who are comfortable running can get a great aerobic workout and loosen tight back muscles at the same time (just be sure to stretch thoroughly). Lower impact exercises better suit some people, especially if they are older or have other injuries.

Walking, swimming, biking or exercise machines like the elliptical provide great workouts without as much pounding on the spine and other areas. Consistency is key: regular exercise builds strength, endurance and resistance to injury.

Reduce Alcohol Intake

Alcohol relaxes muscles and depresses the nervous system. The spine derives much support from the muscles and tendons that surround it. Alcohol can cause the muscles around the spine to loosen temporarily, which can lead to a return or increase in pain. In addition, as a depressant, alcohol slows circulation, which is critical for flushing toxins and delivering key nutrients to the spine. This can slow the healing process and exacerbate inflammation.

Favor Organic Foods Versus Processed Fare

Diet impacts inflammation, and inflammation harms healing processes. Most physicians recommend reducing inflammation by limiting the consumption of processed foods, such as white bread, pasta, sodas, potato chips and fast food. To combat inflammation, increase organic foods, especially deeply colored fruits and vegetables, including carrots, sweet potatoes, cherries, watermelons and grapes.

Advanced Back Pain Therapies

Often, as lower back pain progresses and becomes chronic, home remedies and dietary changes are not enough. Before choosing a surgical option, however, your doctor may recommend additional treatments, including physical therapy and injections, that can solve the problem without the complications of surgery.

Physical Therapy

Exercise often resolves chronic lower back pain, but the same exercises don’t work for every patient. Often, a physical therapist must evaluate the patient in order to prescribe exercises that specifically benefit that person’s condition. When dealing with lower back pain, physical therapists focus on re-training posture, stretching and flexibility exercises, aerobic conditioning and strengthening core muscles.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lower or upper back pain can cause intense frustration. It imposes limits that prevent people from doing activities they once enjoyed. To lessen these frustrations, it’s important to accept limitations and find ways to adapt.

For example, taking a break while mowing the lawn or making several trips to carry the groceries inside the house can make life easier and greatly reduce symptoms. Modifications that avoid aggravating the condition help prevent further injury and decrease healing time.

Injection-Based Treatments

Some cases of chronic back pain respond to injections, including nerve blocks, epidural steroid injections and nerve ablations. These treatments are useful when the source of the pain is known. Injections can also serve as a tool for diagnosis by elimination: if the pain does not respond to a certain injection, a cause can be discounted. Injections eliminate pain temporarily, but they are generally used in conjunction with other treatments.


Alternative Treatments

Alternative treatments may provide pain relief and help the patient live a more active, worry-free life. Options include the following:

Pharmacologic Treatments

Medications may be necessary to treat some cases of chronic back pain, though they generally are not cures and other treatments are often needed to correct the problem. Common medications used include analgesics, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. Because all medications come with side effects, most are intended for temporary pain relief rather than prolonged use.


Spinal Surgery

Many cases of lower back pain ultimately require surgery. Often, doctors determine that the cause of the pain is a structural issue that requires surgery to correct; non-surgical treatments may provide some relief, but without correcting the problem, the chronic problem will persist and may even worsen. In the event non-surgical treatments are not enough, it’s time to evaluate spinal surgery.

Do I Need Spinal Surgery?

Alexandria-based spinal surgeon Dr. Subach evaluates patients for spinal surgery and performs them when they promote greater relief than alternative treatments. Particularly, Dr. Subach performs surgery that provides relief for back pain that extends into the legs and arms.

To identify causes of pain pre-surgery, Dr. Subach recommends x-rays to identify bone spurs, problematic discs and other challenges. Cases for surgery are decided on an individual basis, depending on the patient’s condition, prognosis and health.

Types of Spinal Surgery

Many types of spinal surgery are available, and the best one depends on the condition and individual case. Common examples include:


Anterior Lumbar Interbody Fusion

This surgery relieves back pain by fusing two vertebrae together to relieve back pain.

Mazor Robotic Screw Fixation

This surgery corrects back pain that results from two vertebrae rubbing together. The loose vertebrae are fused together to prevent further friction. 

How Back Surgery Gives Patients Their Lives Back

After surgery, most patients experience a welcome increase in life quality. Often, prior to surgery, just walking a long distance, driving, or going to the grocery store are excruciating ordeals. Life goals are often put on hold. In many cases, without surgical intervention these goals can never be achieved. Recovery after surgery can take some time and patience, but when it comes to regaining your quality of life, it’s well worth it.

If you suffer chronic lower back pain and need to find a solution that gives you back your quality of life, contact Subach Spinal Solutions in Alexandria, Virginia to see what treatments are right for you.

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