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Most everyone suffers from lower back pain at some point in life—lower back pain can be caused by lifting something heavy in an improper manner. There are certain conditions that will cause lower back pain, and that back pain may be chronic, unless the cause can be found and repaired.
Herniated disc: When discs start to degenerate or weaken, whether from a condition or because of lifting something improperly, the cartilage bulges and can be pushed into the space with the spinal cord or a nerve root. The pressure of the bulging disc pressing on the spine or the nerve root causes the pain. A herniated disc may also be referred to as a bulging disc, protruding disc or ruptured disc.
Sciatica: This is a condition caused by a herniated disc pressing on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the nerve that runs down the spinal column to the pelvis. It carries nerve fibers to the leg. The pain associated with sciatica is shock-like or burning lower back pain. The pain can radiate down through the buttocks and down the leg into and below the knee.
Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis is a bone disease. It causes a progressive decrease in bone density and strength. The bones become brittle and porous. They break easily in a fall, especially the bones in the spine and the hips.
Other back problems that can cause lower back pain include scoliosis (spine curves to the side), kyphosis (upper curve of the back is severely rounded), lordosis (abnormally accentuated arch in the lower back), back extension (spine bends backward) and flexion (spine bends forward).
Chronic pain can be managed with medication, exercise or a combination of both. Before starting an exercise program, talk to a doctor or a physical therapist. He or she can help a person suffering from chronic pain design an exercise program compatible with the type and location of the chronic pain. An exercise program can start out slowly, with stretching and minimal endurance and strength exercising, then can progress as the patient can handle more of the exercises.
Chronic pain can also be managed with medications. A mediation regiment is tailored to each individual's needs. Pain management medications can range from aspirin or ibuprofen to various narcotics. If a combination of diet, exercise and oral pain medications do not satisfactorily manage the pain, a medication pump (with a medication like morphine) can be inserted for the patient, but medication pumps are generally a last resort when other methods are not enough to control the pain.
Inactivity lends to weakening of muscles, including the heart. Inactivity also leads to a higher risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Exercising can help ward off those problems, in addition to fatigue, stress and anxiety—but when suffering from chronic pain, exercise is the last thing on anyone's mind.
According to Edward Laskowski, M.D., of the Sports Medicine Center at the Mayo Clinic, lack of exercise may contribute to chronic pain. When planning an exercise program to help deal with chronic pain, start out slowly. Start out with some simple stretching and a few minutes of endurance and strength training exercises. Increase the length of each exercise over time. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural pain relievers made by the body. It also builds strength and flexibility of muscles, which is an important part of controlling pain from arthritis.
Prior to getting started, consult your doctor or a physical therapist. A physical therapist can help design a safe exercise program to fit your needs. The physical therapist can show you certain exercises to help with joint pain and other chronic pain. Other exercises such as meditation and yoga can also help a person relax and dissipate stress. Even when starting slowly, exercise can make a difference in as little as three weeks.
Chronic pain, by definition, is a pain that last longer than it should. Acute pain comes on suddenly and is a direct response to injury or disease. Common types of chronic pain include arthritis, fibromyalgia, headaches and back pain.
In order to treat chronic pain, physicians must first find the cause of the pain. This is not always a simple task. A person may have pain in his or her legs, but the cause could be in the person's spine. Sometimes, the cause of pain cannot be found. Fibromyalgia pain usually cannot be found. Patients with fibromyalgia tend to be easily fatigued and have pain in the muscles and joints. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, scientists have theorized that fibromyalgia “may be connected to injury, changes in muscle metabolism or viruses and the exact cause is unclear.”
If a patient suffers from chronic pain, he or she should start with a visit to his or her primary care physician, who can then refer the patient to the proper specialists. If one doctor cannot find the cause of the pain, get a second opinion. If a second doctor cannot find the cause, get a third opinion.
Chronic pain can sometimes be relieved by surgery. When the source of the pain cannot be found (such as fibromyalgia pain), medications can help control the pain. Medications are prescribed based on patient history and the amount of pain the patient is suffering from.
There are many chronic support groups on the Internet—this is good for people who wish to remain partially anonymous. It also gives a person suffering from chronic pain an outlet that is somewhat private and allows him or her to share incidents that he or she may not want to share with close friends and family members. Chronic pain support groups also provide contact with others suffering from the same type of chronic pain—these people can understand your condition, and will never tell you that it's all part of your imagination.
One online chronic pain support group provides message boards and a chat room where members can give and receive support regarding his or her condition and other issues relating to that condition. Some topics on the support boards include a place to make introductions for new members (newbies), a message board to post when a person is doing worse than usual, or can share if he or she is scheduled for surgery and recovery updates. Pain discussion forums allow users to post and vent about chronic pain, the doctor, physical therapy treatments, and also allows users to share in coping techniques that have worked for others.
Most forums also have a general message board where users can discuss off topic things, such as a summer trip, kids, grandkids, the garden or whatever he or she wants to talk about.
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|