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Your Healthy Family: Oh my aching back! Managing pain beyond the backyard

Posted at 8:49 AM, Jun 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-27 10:49:57-04

CLEVELAND, OHIO – Yard work can be a real pain – in the back.

While many people feel sore after a long day of planting and mulching, sometimes back pain can be the sign of a real injury.

Santhosh Thomas, D.O., a spine specialist at Cleveland Clinic, said most injuries are caused by inappropriate twisting and lifting, and often involve muscles, joints and spinal discs.

“The most common injuries are to the muscles and the joints, which usually resolve,” he said. “The disc injuries are usually a little bit more painful. They oftentimes cause more pain in your back and leg. Those things may be more intense and may not be managed easily.”

If someone experiences back pain, Dr. Thomas recommends a few days of applying ice or heat, minimal rest, and taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, if able to do so.

But, if the pain persists, especially for weeks, you should have it checked out by a doctor.

For severe pain in the back and legs, he recommends seeking immediate help.

Numbness and tingling in the legs is a sign that the injury may be more serious and possibly nerve-related.

Bladder problems, or difficulty walking, should prompt a call to the doctor as well.

Massage, yoga, acupuncture, physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications will help relieve most back aches and pains, according to Dr. Thomas.

However, there are other non-surgical options for more serious back injuries.

“A lot of times you can do trigger point injection for muscle pain that has not resolved,” said Dr. Thomas. “Then, there are facet joint injections – where the joint becomes the source of pain, so we can take a needle and go into the joints in your back. Often times, if you have pain down the leg, it’s usually a nerve related problem for which we use what we call epidural injections.”

Dr. Thomas said back pain in young people will typically resolve over time, whereas older adults may want to talk to their doctor about non-opioid medications and alternative therapies.

He said surgery should only be considered as a last resort for back pain after all other treatments have been exhausted.