Back pain may be one of the most pervasive ailments in America. Two-thirds of American adults will experience back pain at some time in their lives. As a result, back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under age 45. Acute pain comes on suddenly and intensely. It's the kind you usually experience from doing something that you shouldn't be doing or from doing it the wrong way. The pain can come from sprains, strains, or pulls of muscles in your back. It may hurt like crazy for several days, but doctors say that you can be pain-free without any lasting effects by following these self-help tips.
When does your back need medical backup? When you experience any of the following:
• Back pain that comes on suddenly for no apparent reason
• Back pain that is accompanied by other symptoms, such as fever, stomach cramps, chest pain, or difficulty breathing
• An acute attack that lasts for more than 2 or 3 days without any pain relief
• Chronic pain that lasts more than 2 weeks without relief
• Back pain that radiates down your leg to your knee or foot
You shouldn't always assume that back pain is a sign that something is wrong with just your back, notes Milton Fried, M.D. It could be a sign of some other disorder.
Edward Abraham, M.D., is an assistant clinical professor of orthopedics at the University of California, Irvine, College of Medicine, and has a practice in Santa Ana. He originated the concept for outpatient back therapy in the United States.
Richard A. Deyo, M.D., is a professor of medicine and health services and director of the Center for Cost and Outcomes Research at the University of Washington in Seattle.
Milton Fried, M.D., is the founder and director of the Milton Fried Medical Clinic in Atlanta. He also holds degrees in chiropractic and physical therapy.
David Lehrman, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Mount Sinai Hospital and the Miami Heart Institute in Miami Beach, Florida.
Ronald Melzack, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of psychology at McGill University in Montreal.
Roger Minkow, M.D., is an ergonomic consultant in Petaluma, California.
Dennis Turk, Ph.D., is the John and Emma Bonica professor of anesthesiology and pain research at the University of Washington in Seattle.