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Acute back pain First Aid 101

Has an episode of acute back pain got you feeling 100 years old in less than a few hours?  Are you unsure whether you need to go to massage therapist, Osteopath or check in to ER?
There is so much confusion out there when it comes to dealing with acute back pain, and as much as I love addressing the factors that will help you never have an episode of back pain again,  we all need some guidance on what to do initially when severe back pain strikes.

What you do (or I should say don’t do) in the first 48 hours is critical for your recovery.

Firstly identifying the cause of your pain will help you determine what to do next.  If you hurt your back as a result of a fall, or accident where it is possible you have fractured your vertebrae or caused damage to your spinal cord you will want to receive professional medical evaluation and emergency medical treatment as soon as possible.

Otherwise assuming you haven’t fractured a vertebrae or damaged the spinal cord, what can you do in the first 24-48 hours?

  1. Book in to see an Osteopath.  I was going to put this one last but I really feel the need to tell you why Osteopaths are such a good choice as a musculoskeletal practitioner to diagnose and advise you on your management plan.
    Did you know a Doctor of Osteopathy spends 5 years at university learning how to diagnose pathologies and acute and chronic medical conditions?
    Through a really thorough case history, special muscular and neurological testing and referring for scans only if needed we can effectively diagnose your condition to help find the best and most effective management of your pain. Also having Osteopathic treatment on the surrounding areas of your body during an acute episode can significantly relieve pain and promote faster healing.
  2. Do not stretch.  Your body is clever, and often as a reaction to the inflammation all the surrounding muscles will tighten and sometimes spasm to protect and “splint’ the area.  This is the mechanism that severely limits your mobility but it is also the body’s way of telling you to rest so it can heal.
  3. Don’t get areas of acute pain massaged.. Massage will bring more blood into an area that is already congested, thus causing the pain to get worse after the massage has stopped.  I have lost count of the number of patents I have seen who have been flared up from having a massage on an acute injury.
  4. Depending on the injury your Osteopath will advise you to apply ice or heat to the area and surrounding.  In the first 24 hours often ice will help limit any swelling and further inflammation.  Some people also find combining the two can be very effective (use a ratio of 1:2 – hot for 5 minutes followed by cold for 10 minutes)
  5. Apply a homeopathic muscle cream to the surrounding area.  Arnica cream is a great one to keep in the home medical kit or magnesium cream is also very effective.  You can check out our previous article on how to use magnesium here.
  6. If it is lower back related – Once or twice a day adopt the ‘astronaut’ position.  Lie on the floor with your legs bent up at 90degrees with either a pile of cushions or couch supporting our calves.  Rest here for 20 minutes, it will allow your lower back muscles to release.  (get up only by lying on your side first then using your hands to sit up)
  7. Gentle movement.  You don’t want to move into any directions or ranges that cause pain but you do want to keep mobile.  Avoid being in one position for more than 30-40minutes, alternate positions throughout the day.  For lower backs – lying on the ground, knees bent and together rocking from side to side is a great mobilizing exercise.
  8. Consider a Curcumin supplement.  This is the active ingredient of Turmeric and is a powerful anti-inflammatory ingredient.
  9. Drink plenty of fluids.  This one really doesn’t belong last as it is really important when it comes to the spine.  Your discs between your vertebrae reduce in height when you are dehydrated, making it easier for nerves and other structures to become irritated.

I understand acute back pain can be extremely painful and scary during this initial ‘crisis mode’, however under the guidance of your Osteopath and applying the above steps your body will start to recover and you can then move in the next phase of gaining back your flexibility and mobility and start dynamic exercises to strengthen your back to prevent future episodes.
If you know someone who suffers from acute episodes of back or neck pain we would greatly appreciate if you could please share this article with them or if you would like to seek treatment to prevent future flare ups book in with one of our expert Osteopaths today.  
In good health,

Dr. Angela Baklis


January 2, 2017

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