Are you currently suffering from back pain?
It is estimated that 80% of the people will suffer from some form of back pain in their lifetime. The root cause of each back case can vary so widely that it can become extremely difficult to navigate through the endless amount of information and find the perfect remedy(if you are lucky enough to find one at all.)
At our Seattle chiropractic office, we see a wide variety of people seeking our care for low back pain. We have helped care for professional athletes who are attempting to avoid retirement due to back pain. We have seen mother’s who are struggling with upper back pain and can no longer pick up their small children. We even see back pain patients who are pre and post operations who are attempting to avoid surgery, or trying to find relief after a failed surgery.
The people who seek care at our office have an extremely high rate of success for the wide variety of back pain that can bring you into our office.
Please call us if you think we can be of help with your back pain or health problem, or you would like a free consultation about chiropractic at Queen Anne Chiropractic Center.
Next, I would like to address some of the important issues to consider when seeking back pain relief.
How can a chiropractor help my back pain?
I cannot count how many times I have been asked this question. The answer to the question often follows a similar theme, but the since each back pain case is unique, I typically have to put on my thinking cap to take all details into account.
A Doctor of Chiropractic works with the nervous system. The nervous system is made up by the brain and spinal cord, which I like to compare to the computer and the cable. The nervous system is responsible for sending and receiving signals so your body functions properly.
If there is nervous system interference, via a pinched nerve, nerve root compression, biomechanical imbalance of the body, a disc issue etc..etc.., your body may express this as pain and/or dysfunction.
The job of a chiropractor is to assess the nervous system, and in the case of low back pain, adjust your spinal column to relieve the choking of the nerve system that is involved.
When this pressure is taken off of the main cable system of the brain, natural, innate healing takes place. The chiropractor often receives the credit, when in fact the body is simply doing the job it was meant to do. The chiropractor simply removed the interference.
This is essentially how chiropractors successfully care for a person with lower back pain.
This conservative approach allows for progressive healing without the risky side effects of drugs and/or surgery(which could also lead to dependency and serious side effects.) Back pain does not have to be permanent, nor does it have to ruin your quality of life.
The Back Pain Time Frame: How long have you had back pain?
This seems like a very easy question, but due to the way our minds work many people forget the first time they suffered a lower back injury. This causes them to attribute their back pain episode to an event in their recent memory, which may or may not be the cause.
The length of back pain problem can often be determined by the use of x-rays, since they can reveal tell tale signs of a longer term problem. Similar to when a dentist views your teeth, and knows whether you’ve been brushing or flossing, the amount of arthritis/degeneration will show the approximate time frame in which the low back pain progression started.
The longer a person waits to see a chiropractor for back pain, the greater chance that problems can accumulate on top of the original injury. These original injuries can span decades with a varying initial occurrences from car accidents to equestrian.
All of this information will help a chiropractor determine the appropriate care plan, and exit strategy to allow your body to fully heal from acute or chronic back pain.
How long will it take for my back pain to heal?
If you have read our other answers about back pain, you can see this is another subjective question, as each case of back pain is unique. Once a thorough examination is accomplished, subjective and objective findings reviewed a reasonable time frame for healing can be found.
Some of the subjective findings we take into consideration when we determine the length of time for your back pain may take to heal are:
- When did the initial onset occur?
How long have you had back pain?
What currently makes it better or worse?
Previous history of severe trauma, or minor trauma over time?
What is your current and previous nutritional status?
X-ray and/or MRI findings.
All of the answers to these questions and concerns by your chiropractor will help determine the appropriate care, prognosis, and ability to come up with a fair time frame for your back pain to be resolved. One thing is for certain, however, and that is as long as your body has the ability to heal, chiropractic care will help your body heal faster and with permanency.
Should I use heat or ice for my back pain?
This is a question we are asked often. With very few exceptions, the same rules apply to heat and ice to all areas of the body that might be injured. Since the recommendations are so standard, I thought I would break them down for use in regards to back pain.
The body’s response to soft tissue damage is inflammation. Immediately after the injury occurs, the body begins to send cells and nutrients to the area to help clean it up and begin the recovery process. There are three stages of inflammation:
Time frame: 0 – 72 hours after injury occurred
Cardinal Signs: pain, swelling, heat, redness, loss of function
Time frame: 72 hours to days or even weeks
Cardinal Signs: decreased pain, swelling, heat, redness, some increase in function
CONTRAST THERAPY: combination of ICE and HEAT
Time frame: days to one year and beyond
Cardinal Signs: significantly decreased pain, swelling, heat, redness and pain at tissue stretch
HEAT, ICE continues to benefit as well
While ice is rarely a bad idea, it is mission critical in the acute and subacute phases, or the first 2-3 days, of your injury. At this time, your body is sending help via blood and lymph to the injured area to begin the repair process. This causes active edema, or swelling. Using heat at this time would increase the circulation leading to additional swelling, increased pain and prolonging recovery.
To use ice properly:
- Ice may be used throughout any stage of injury
- Use a reusable cold pack, bag of frozen veggies or bag of ice. Wrap a towel around the pack before applying to skin. You can moisten the towel for deeper penetration.
- Apply for 15-20 minutes waiting at least 1 – 1.5 hours between applications. Apply 2-3 times per day.
- Skin will turn red but should return to normal about 20 minutes after the pack is removed.
If skin turns red with blotchy white spots, you have excessively cooled the area and should wait longer to reapply and shorten the amount of time for the next application.
If you have a medical condition that affects circulation and/or have experienced frostbite to that area before, consult your physician before applying cold.
Contrast Therapy: Ice and Heat
Contrast therapy is an effective method during the subacute and chronic phases, or 3 days and beyond. During the subacute phase, the body begins to shift its healing mechanisms; Adding heat to your treatments can be of great benefit. The cold flushes out excess inflammation and the heat draws fresh cells and nutrients to the area via increased circulation. For this reason, you want to end the contrast therapy sessions with cold so that the area does not stay congested with excess inflammation.
To use contrast therapy properly:
Contrast Therapy may be used after the first 3 days of injury, during the subacute and chronic phases, until the injury heals.
Forms of cold and heat:
- ice packs and electric or microwave-able heating pads/packs
- 2 buckets: one with filled with ice and cold water, the other with hot water (care to avoid boiling, scalding water to prevent burns)
- Ice Pack/Heat Pack: 1:2:1 ratio of cold to heat (example: “Cold for 5 minutes” then “Heat for 10 minutes” then “Cold for 5 minutes”)
- Buckets, or slush immersions: Start in the cold bucket. Stay there as long as you can tolerate, then switch to the warm bucket and do the same. Go back and forth until the water temperatures have evened out and/or about 20 minutes.
- Regardless of method, wait at least 1 – 1.5 hours between applications. Apply 2-3 times per day.
As always when applying cold or heat to the skin, be cautious not to overdo it! Excessive cooling could lead to frostbite; excessive heating could lead to burns.
If you have a medical condition that affects circulation, consult your physician before using contrast therapy.
Who doesn’t love the soothing, comforting feeling of heat? While heat is probably the preferred method for pain management, it is only appropriate in the subacute (in combination with ice) and chronic phases of an injury, or 3 days and beyond. DO NOT USE HEAT WITHIN THE FIRST 72 HOURS OF INJURY! As mentioned earlier, additional heat in the acute phase will increase inflammation resulting in increased and/or prolonged pain.
To use heat properly:
Heat is ideal for injuries in the chronic phase of inflammation. It may be combined with ice during the subacute phase and should not be used at all during the acute phase.
Forms of heat
- Electric or microwave-able heating pad, hot shower, analgesic cream, warm compress
- As with ice, a moist application will allow for deeper penetration
- Apply heat for 20-30 minutes, waiting at least a 1 – 1.5 hours between applications. Apply 2-3 times per day.
Heat should not be used by individuals with impaired sensation
If your skin remains red long after heat is removed, seek medical assistance as you may have a first degree burn.
Too much heat can cause congestion in the area resulting in prolonged or increased pain. With too much heat (staying on a heating pad for several hours, for example), your body triggers a reflexive response that actually causes muscles and joints to become stiff and sore.
Use one form of heat at a time to avoid excessive heating. If you have just taken a hot shower, wait an hour or two before applying a heating pad. If you have applied a warming analgesic cream (such as Ben Gay or Tiger Balm), wait an hour or two before applying a heating pad.
If you have a medical condition that affects circulation, consult your physician before applying heat.
It is important to care for your injuries from the initial onset on through to your complete recovery. The use of ice and heat can be a great, noninvasive way to manage pain – whether it is new pain or pains that you’ve become intimately familiar with.