When to Get Medical Help for Back Pain?

Many of us have had some kind of back pain. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, back injuries have been the most expensive health-care problem for people ages 30 to 50.

Dr. Michael Ramsay«Back pain is probably the commonest reason people seek help for pain management other than acute post-surgical pain,» says Dr. Michael Ramsay, chief of the department of anesthesiology and pain management at Baylor University Medical Center at Dallas.

Yes, sometimes over-the-counter meds work. But not always. So how do you know when it’s time to move past ibuprofen?

We asked Dr. Ramsey. But first, he told us this:

«Pain is a wonderful thing. That sounds crazy, but it’s your body’s way of telling you something is going on and we need to protect this area of the body.»

Here are his suggestions and comments about when to seek professional help for pain:

1. When it’s not eased by current medications or coping techniques.

2. When it disables you to the point you can’t function. «You can’t get up, you can’t get dressed.»

3. When it has lasted more time than seems reasonable. How much time depends on the severity of the pain, he says. Allow more time for less-severe pain.

4. When it’s accompanied by numbness. «If a nerve injury is associated with the pain, time is of the essence. If the nerve is getting compromised, the chance of getting it back is smaller if you don’t seek treatment.»

5. When it’s causing stress or emotional fatigue. «We look at the effect of this pain. What is the patient’s general health? What’s their mobility? Are they depressed? Depression is a factor on the longevity of pain, on the pain continuing.»

He also has tips for avoiding back pain: Exercise, and learn how to do so correctly. Try aquatic sports. And, if the pain remains, seek help in a facility that deals with the physical, mental and emotional aspects of pain.

«The more specialties you have working together, the best outcome you’ll have,» he says. «It’s all about treating the whole you.»

BY LESLIE GARCIA / The Dallas Morning News

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