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Essential Dos and Don'ts Following a Minor Back Injury

Let's face it back strains and sprains are a part of life, especially as we age and our muscles lose some of their youthful elasticity. Such injuries can occur anytime, anywhere, and during almost any kind of activity. One minute you're working out with free weights at the gym lifting a box of paper at work pulling weeds in the garden or teeing off on the back nine. Then, out of nowhere OUCH! there's that sudden tension and pain in your mid- or lower back, and you just know that you're in for lots of discomfort. But what you do in the minutes, hours and days immediately following your injury can have a big impact on how quickly and thoroughly you recover.

Before we continue, keep in mind that, for purposes of this blog, we are discussing sudden-onset (acute) minor back injuries caused by twisting, lifting, bending, jerking or straining motions as opposed to blunt-force injuries caused by car accidents, contact sports and falls, which are often emergency situations. If you're uncertain whether you or someone else has a severe spine injury, always err on the side of caution by calling 911 and refraining from any movement that might jar the spinal cord.

By the same token, if you have chronic back pain that has lasted for weeks, months or years on end, its always a good idea to consult a spine specialist to find out what might be causing it. Conditions such as spinal arthritis, a herniated disk, sciatica, spinal cord compression or spondylolisthesis will not resolve themselves, and can progressively worsen over time.

Think your back pain might be due to something more complicated than a strained muscle or pulled ligament? Dr. Chetan Patel and his team at the Spine Health Institute can unravel the cause of your pain and design a treatment plan that's right for you. From targeted physical therapy to pain management injections and minimally invasive surgical therapies, our comprehensive capabilities can get you back on track to greater spine health. Call our Patient Care Coordinator at Call866-986-7497 or click on the Book Online button at the top right of this page.

With all of the above in mind, here are a few of the most important things you should and should NOT do immediately following a back strain, sprain or spasm.

DO: Stop and apply ice.

When you know you've strained your back, stop what you're doing and apply an ice pack to the injured area as soon as possible. This cold therapy will reduce inflammation and help numb your pain, and can be continued for about 20 minutes at a time every 6-8 hours over the next two or three days. Importantly, remember not to put ice directly on your skin, which can damage the tissues and nerve endings. Instead, wrap the ice in a towel. You may also find it helpful to lie flat on your back on a hard surface in order to support and neutralize your injured muscles in the immediate aftermath of a sprain, strain or spasm.

DON'T: Ignore your pain and figure you'll work it out.

Unless you want to prolong your pain and worsen your injury, it's a bad idea to play through the pain or figure you'll stop as soon as you're done with whatever task you were engaged in when you got hurt. Pay attention to what your body is telling you, and refrain from movements that worsen your pain. You may be addicted to your daily exercise, but it's essential to take it easy and let your body heal before resuming strenuous activity.

DO: Apply heat therapy if your pain persists for more than two to three days.

If your injury is still bothering you after a couple of days of cold therapy to lessen your inflammation, try switching to heat therapy, or a combination of the two. Low-level heat can help speed up the flow of blood to the injury site, and may be quite effective in reducing stiffness, muscle spasms and pain. You can apply a wrapped heat pack for up to 30 consecutive minutes whenever you feel discomfort from now until the time that you've healed.

DON'T: Engage in high-impact exercises while your back is in recovery mode.

Try to avoid any heavy lifting or repetitive twisting of your back for up to six weeks, or as your doctor directs you. Weight lifting, contact sports like football, and major twisting maneuvers like those used in golf and tennis can do more harm than good when you've recently experienced a strain.

DO: Take anti-inflammatory medications, and consult a spine specialist when needed.

Over-the-counter NSAIDs and pain relievers can provide needed relief following a back injury, but they won't cure anything and may not be advisable for anyone with kidney problems or a stomach ulcer. If your pain persists or worsens after two weeks, or if at any time you experience additional symptoms such as bladder or bowel problems or tingling and/or weakness in your arms and legs, its time to seek medical evaluation. Here are five signs that you should see a doctor for your back pain.

DON'T: Have short-term memory when it comes to how you injured yourself.

Historians may disagree about who originated the notion that the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result, but this piece of wisdom is instructive in dealing with back injuries. Now that you know how easy it is to injure your back, don't set yourself up for a repeat injury by not making any changes in the way you lift, stand and otherwise position yourself when completing certain tasks. Learn exercises like abdominal bracing to strengthen your core muscles and provide greater stability to your spine, and practice safe stretching exercises for your lower back muscles prior to engaging in activities that may strain your back.

By the same rite, practice proper lifting technique, and don't try to pick up an object that is too heavy or bulky for you to move on your own. Find out how to sit and stand in ways that avoid muscle strain, and if necessary, try to lose weight so as to reduce your chances of repeated back issues.

DO: Sleep in a position that's safe for your spine.

When it comes to recovering from an injury, few things are as therapeutic as a good nights sleep. Whether you prefer to snooze on your back, on your side, or less preferably on your stomach, our Back to Basics videos will show you how to avoid aggravating an existing back injury, as well as how to safely get into and out of bed using the log rolling technique. 

And finally.

DON'T forget that the Spine Health Institute is here to help!

Led by Dr. Chetan Patel, our multidisciplinary medical team in Altamonte Springs, Fla., includes physical therapists, pain management specialists and wellness experts who can help you recover from and avoid future back injuries. We are a one-stop resource for patients from across Central Florida and beyond who seek evaluation and care for a wide array of moderate to severe spinal injuries, and were ready to help you and your loved ones whenever you may need us. Call Call866-986-7497 to arrange for an appointment today!

References:

Icing for Injuries, Tendinitis, and Inflammation (5/15/2014). Retrieved from PainScience.com: https://www.painscience.com/articles/icing.php

Back Pain Relief for the Just Injured (12/29/2008). Retrieved from EveryDayHealth.com: http://www.everydayhealth.com/back-pain/back-pain-relief.aspx

FIRST AID for Back Injuries (n.d.). Retrieved from SynergyClinic.net: http://synergyclinic.net/patient-resources/first-aid-for-back-injuries/

Ice and Heat Packs (n.d.). Retrieved from HealthDay News for Healthier Living: http://consumer.healthday.com/encyclopedia/first-aid-and-emergencies-20/emergencies-and-first-aid-news-227/ice-and-heat-packs-645144.html

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