Steroid Shots Are A Pretty Common Back Pain Treatment

This is something to watch out for anytime someone gets an epidural for spinal pain. Steroid injections are generally reserved for the most severe cases of back pain. A person could either be in the limbo state of not being a “good surgical candidate” or, they may actually have a surgery scheduled, but are in so much pain that they cannot wait for the procedure.

In general, epidurals work well. At least that’s what my patients tell me. It’s a procedure that is very targeted and is sometimes painful right afterwards. However, if the doc has got the needle in the right spot.

Even if you do have an epidural injection that does take the pain away for a period of time, you will still need to change your life style. A regular brisk walking program will actually relieve some of the pressure on the spinal nerves because trunk rotation shifts the spinal stresses to alternating sides and this has been shown to reduce spinal stress.

Take a look at this…


CHICAGO — Millions of people get steroid shots in their backs to relieve pain. Now they are probably wondering if it’s safe.

In 23 states, hundreds, possibly thousands, of back-pain patients are being warned to watch for symptoms of meningitis because of a custom-mixed steroid solution that may have been contaminated with fungus. Five people have died and more than 40 others have fallen ill.

Doctors who do these injections say they are extremely safe when done correctly with sterile drugs. And many doctors stick to medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration instead of relying on generally less-regulated “compounding pharmacies” like the Massachusetts company implicated in the outbreak.

“If I was a patient, I would definitely be concerned,” said Dr. Michael Schafer, an orthopedic specialist at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

First Step To Get Rid Of Back Pain

Figuring out how to get rid of back pain is a challenge for many. That’s usually because back pain can be caused by so many different things. And to make matters worse, many of the causes of back pain don’t show up and any of the diagnostic tests that you get from your doctor.

Finding out what’s actually causing the back pain is generally the first step in treating it. However, what’s causing your back pain may not show up on any test or x-ray you’ve taken. This happens to many people.

It may seem that you visit your doctor every 2 weeks or so trying to find a way to get some relief. And, with some, there is a lot of wasted time, energy and money going back and forth to specialists and taking CT scans, MRIs, nerve conduction tests and more. In the end, a prescription for muscle relaxers and pain relievers is the only solution your doctor may come to.

If you’re suffering from back pain, especially if your doctor doesn’t really know what’s causing it, one of the best things that you can do is to keep a “Back Pain Diary”. Keeping this kind of diary will make it easier to get rid of back pain. (see this post about the prevalence of back pain)

This doesn’t have to be anything special. Just a small note book that is dedicated to tracking your back pain through the day. Using a back pain diary can actually give you and your doctor a pretty good understanding of what may be causing your back pain. Keeping track of when you have your back pain and what makes it worse will let your doctor and therapist know what body structures may be involved.

As I mentioned above, your back pain diary doesn’t have to be elaborate. And, you don’t want to make it into a novel about your back pain. It should be well organized and easy to read and follow. This makes it easy for you to scan through it looking for pain patterns. Once you see a pattern of pain, it will make it easier to get rid of back pain.

So, what does a back pain diary look like? It’s a daily journal that can be divided in several different ways. You also want to be able to track the intensity, description, location, of your back pain, and any particular activity that seems to make it better or worse.

Many medical professionals use the “0-10” pain scale to measure intensity. Where zero equals no pain at all, and a rating of 10 would put you in the emergency room. Many people using this scale say that they have an “11”, “12”, or “30” using this scale. But, unless you are actually in the emergency room, it’s less than 10. Yes, a number 10 indicates pain so severe that you have to call 9-1-1.

The description of pain is straight forward. Back pain can be described as “sharp”, “aching”,  “burning”, or even “buzzing”. But, you aren’t limited to these. Your back pain may feel like something totally different than these.

And then there is the location. Again, this is straight forward. Where do you feel it most? Does it travel? Does it have a different description in different body parts?

Some people keep track of their back pain by the hour. In other words, you track your pain hourly or any other manageable time periods, i.e. every 4 hours or what have you.

Which ever way you decide to organize your back pain diary, try and keep it consistent from day to day. At the end of each day you may want to have a comment section where you can add any significant events good or bad.

And then, the next time you go to see your doctor or physical therapist, you can take your diary and go over it with them. This will give them more information so that they can more effectively help you get rid of back pain.

What Is The Best Way To Treat Back Pain

Best Way To Treat Back Pain: Find The Cause First

Before you start trying to “cure” or treat your back pain, you have to first figure out why you have it in the first place. The vast majority (something like 70-90%) of back pain cases is caused by muscular strains from over exertion/use or from direct injury like a car accident or a fall. But, how do you know that this is causing your back pain and not something like a fracture or something?

There are several tools that doctors use to figure out what may be causing your back pain. The primary way is by just talking about how your back pain started and how it “behaves”.  For instance, if you say that you bent over to pick something up and felt a “pop”, or, if you’ve had to do a lot of lifting like having to move a lot of furniture, then it’s pretty cut and dry as to what’s causing your back pain.

Diagnostic Tools To Help Treat Back Pain: X Ray Back Pain

But, if you’ve had an accident or something like that, you may get an x-ray to see if there is something more going on besides just strained muscles. X-rays are a quick and simple way to look at the bones to see if there is a fracture or something like that but they really can’t “see” anything else.

Many people don’t know this and get confused by a negative result (when the x-ray doesn’t show anything) of an x-ray. But, an x-ray can only “see” the bones and how they line up. X-rays don’t see muscles or ligaments, or things like this.

But, doctors use x-rays to see how the bones are aligned and then they make assumptions by how the bones look. For instance, if you have an x-ray or your spine, it can’t show if you have a herniated disc or not. But, it does show how far the vertebrae are from each other and if two or more seem closer than they should be, then, the doctor might suspect that you have a blown intervertebral disc.

If the doctor sees something on the x-ray that they want to look at closer (or, if your pain continues to be severe) the doctor may ask you to get a CT or CAT (computer aided tomography) scan. Think of this as a 3 dimensional x-ray. It still uses x-rays but, it gives a more complete view of the area and so you get a better idea of what’s causing your pain.

Another diagnostic tool is the Lab Test. If the doctor suspects that you may have a disease or infection, they may want you to go and have some lab work done. Taking a look at your blood and/or you urine can give the doctor more information as to what is going on in your body. Most infections will cause you to have more of one particular type of blood cells in your system than normal.

When all else has failed, or, when your doctor really suspects that there is something really significant that’s causing your back pain, you may have to have an MRI study. The Magnetic Resonance Imaging study is basically the gold standard in diagnosing the cause so you can effectively treat back pain.

MRI Back Pain

The MRI basically gives you a pretty complete picture of what’s going on in the body. Like the x-ray, it can see bones. But, it sees almost everything else too. It will show what condition your discs are in, whether ligaments are torn, if you have a tumor in the area or, if there are any other structural problems going on in your back.

It’s not usually the first tool that the doctor will use though. This is because it’s the most involved. It takes a long time to perform and requires complete stillness as the study is going on. Plus, it requires that you lay flat on your back in a small tube. There’s a lot of people who can’t do this for several reasons.

So, your doctor may use any one or combination of these tools to get a better idea of what’s causing your back pain. And, once the cause has been determined, then you can actually get on with the business of trying to treat back pain.

So, what can cause pain in the lower back?

Moist Heat For Back Pain

Moist heat for back pain to relieve stiffness.

Hot Stone Massage at Witches Falls Cottages © by Witches Falls Cottages

Moist heat for back pain will help one of the main complaints that people have: That  is stiffness. You know the one…Not the sharp pain that comes from a fresh muscle strain or a bulging disc, but the burning, stretching type pain that comes when you bend over to pick something up.

Most of the time this can come from just overworked muscles or a low back muscle injury that is just slow in resolving. You would probably describe it as “nagging”.  Something that is taking it’s time to go away and has no problem reminding you it’s there every chance it gets.

Previous blog posts have pointed out the best treatment for a stiff back is finding a good stretch (just make sure that it’s a muscle and not something more serious) that targets just the right spot. Adding moist heat for back pain gives better results

Moist Heat For Back Pain Helps With Stretching

To get the most out of a stretching for low back pain program, you should invest in a moist heating pad (like this one). I recommend a moist heating pad versus just heat alone because moist heat has been shown to significantly increase blood flow to skin and muscle tissues. This stimulates healing from injuries.

But, more importantly, when you heat up your muscles and surrounding tissues, it actually will improve your ability to stretch your muscles. One of several studies found out that warming your muscles and tendons up prior to stretching them gave better results than just trying to stretch without heat.

The type of heating pad that gives you moist heat for back pain has a particular covering on it. When you turn it on, it just doesn’t get hot. It actually causes the area (not your whole body) to sweat. And, since you body part is covered by the moist heat pad, the moisture doesn’t get a chance to escape. Thereby it holds all the moisture between the skin and the electric moist heating pad.

Moist Heat For Back Pain: Electric Or Microwave?

There are a couple of different types of moist heating pads on the market. There are electric moist heating pads and microwave moist heat pads. I generally recommend the electric kind. The reason for this is that you have a lot more control over the amount of heat and how long it stays on. If you have back pain, the last thing you’ll want to be doing is running back and forth to the microwave oven to heat it up.

When you’re looking for moist heat for back pain from an electric moist heat pad, make sure you get one with an automatic shut off switch (like this one). You can program the time and the unit will automatcally shut off. That way, if you happen to doze off, the moist heat pad will not continue to run.

So, if you’re stretching for low back pain, you may want to get yourself an electric moist heating pad. You can use it prior to beginning your low back pain stretching routine. Find the area that is your most tight. Whether that’s the hammies, the hips, or the low back.

Then follow the instructions for the moist heat pad and apply it to the tight area before you stretch. Studies show that if you apply moist heat to the tight area for 15-20 minutes, you will have better results with your stretching for low back pain.

While any type of gentle exercising tends to help relieve lower back pain that’s brought on by stiff muscles, all exercises are helped by moist heat for back pain.


Severe Back Pain In Standing: What You Can Do

Disclaimer: Since it’s unethical (and probably illegal) to dispense medical advice over the internet, please read the following blog post as advice that I (the author) would give to myself if I were visiting from a parallel universe.

If anyone is suffering from severe back pain, whether it’s in standing, sitting, or even lying down, the best thing that you can do is get a note book and start writing down all the circumstances surrounding the back pain.

It’s not a good idea to start doing this or that to yourself if you don’t know what’s causing the problem. And, to get a handle on what could be causing the problem, you have to figure out what things can make the problem worse and what can make it better.

For severe pain, you need to seek medical attention as soon as you can. And you’re going to share these notes with your doctor when you see them. So, they need to be as concise and descriptive as possible.

If you have severe back pain and you don’t have (or even if you do) a good idea of why it’s there or what could have caused it, you are going to want to speak with a medical doctor rather than a doctor of chiropractic. The main reason for this is that medical doctors have a greater array of medical tests at their disposal than chiropractors do.

While you can start writing notes at any time, you’ll need your back to be as comfortable as possible to record some of the notes. But, if you can help it, you don’t want the pain to be masked by a lot of pain killing drugs. This is because you’ll want to know exactly what flares your back up and what doesn’t.

The following list are some of the things you’ll want to include in this short exercise. So, get a pen and paper and get comfortable. Let your back pain subside a little and clear your mind as much as possible.

Include the following in your notes on your back pain:

  • When did the back pain start and can you point to anything that may have caused it?
  • On a scale of 0-10, where zero is no pain at all, what’s the highest the pain reaches?
  • Where is the pain localized? Does it move around? Does it travel down or up your legs?
  • Describe the pain at it’s worst. Is it burning? Shocking? Numbing? Aching? Sharp? Pressure?

These next notes will require that you move around. So, why not write down what your going to do first and then just make quick notes so it doesn’t take too long. You’re going to need a watch with a second hand and you’re going to need to be near a counter or table that will support your weight.

These next movements will require that you stand up but, you don’t have to do them all at once. Your pain might be too severe and you should rest when you need to.

So write answers to the following questions describing what happens when you stand. And, these are gentle movements.

  • How long can you stand before the pain starts?
  • What happens when you bend forward?
  • What happens when you bend/arch backwards?
  • What happens when you turn to your right?
  • What happens when you turn to your left?
  • Does the pain travel or spread when you stand?
  • Resting your elbows on a counter or table, what happens to the pain?
  • What happens when you move off your elbows to your hands?
  • Are you having any problems with your bowels, bladder, or sexual function?

Thinking about these questions and having good answers for them will save a lot of time when you get in to see the doctor. While they may have you do some of the same things, it will help determine which tests they may order and what may be causing your problems.

The majority of cases of back pain are caused simply by muscle strain(s). They can be incredibly debilitating and feel a lot worse than they are.

In other cases, the bones of the pelvis and sacrum can become misaligned and caused a lot of problems for people. Most of the time they produce a deep, dull, ache.

Most of the time these types of problems don’t show up on any diagnostic tests but are found by “palpation” or physical hands on examination. These are best handled by Ostepathic physicians or physical therapists trained in osteopathic techniques.

Since these problems can’t be found by MRIs or x-rays,  a good rule of thumb may be to seek out an Osteopath if your medical doctor can’t find anything wrong with you.

And still other cases of back pain can be caused by serious medical conditions. That’s why you need to seek medical attention as soon as you can.

For additional information check out my posts on back pain causes and sciatica symptoms.

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