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Managing Chronic Back Pain

Though an acute injury can be painful and traumatic, it usually resolves itself in a fairly short period of time so you can get back to your normal routine and move on with life.

Back pain

Unfortunately, those suffering from chronic back pain are not so lucky. Being in constant pain for long periods of time can take a toll on your mental as well as your physical well-being, leading to depression, sleep disorders and even disuse syndrome which causes deterioration of muscles and range-of-motion loss due to inactivity.

Specialists who treat chronic pain are realizing that there is more to this problem than just the sensation of pain. More and more clinicians are recognizing that the way our brain processes pain signals can strongly influence how we react to pain and the impact it has on our lives.

This revelation has led to a more thorough comprehension of chronic pain – and more effective ways to treat it.


Medications are usually the first line of treatment for chronic back pain. For mild to moderate pain, specialists will begin by reducing inflammation with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Ibuprofen or Naproxen.

Antidepressants have also proven helpful by affecting levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, the brain mechanisms thought to help control pain. The medicine can also relieve the depression that often accompanies long-term pain.

Narcotics may be prescribed for more serious pain, and may be combined with other medications for better results. Narcotics can be highly addictive, so work closely with your provider to avoid this risk.

For those who prefer not to take pharmaceuticals, herbs such as curcumin and cat’s claw can provide a natural alternative. Both are known to reduce inflammation and can even help with mild depression.

Other Localized Options

If drugs prove ineffective, a pain management specialist may choose to use a more local approach such as nerve blocks, TENS units, trigger point injections or spinal drug pumps. These options send relief directly to the painful area by means of electrical stimulation or localized anesthetics.

These methods may offer you more control over your pain and give longer periods of relief than oral dose medications.

A Holistic Approach

While drugs and other modalities may provide some pain relief, studies in the U.S. reveal a correlation between the increasing prevalence of both chronic pain and major depression during the same time period.

This, along with evidence of actual changes that happen in the brain when chronic pain is present, have led researchers to recommend a more integrative approach to treatment of long-term pain. After adding cognitive-behavioral therapy, relaxation techniques, coping mechanisms and progressive exercise, these studies show a resulting decrease in pain and improvement in physical function, resulting in a decline of overall disability.

What You Can Do

Although your medical provider is the ultimate guide to managing your chronic pain, the final results will depend on your efforts. Medication and localized therapies may mask the pain but full management depends on you.

One of the most important things you can do is learn to relax. Stress increases pain and pain increases stress, resulting in a circle of pain that needs to be broken. Meditation, hypnosis and progressive relaxation are invaluable stress reduction techniques. Biofeedback can train you to control muscle tension, breathing and even your heart rate to reduce anxiety and stress.

Be sure not to neglect your body. It may be tempting to stop all activity out of fear or to avoid pain, but remaining as active as your healthcare provider — and your body — allows will help you recover, both physically and mentally, by providing your body with natural endorphins.

Another crucial factor in managing pain is attitude. Chronic pain can breed negativity and feelings of discouragement. Replace negative thoughts with empowering self-talk and encouragement. Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to family and friends, or find a local support group. Loneliness breeds too much time to think and can increase depression.

Prevention Is the Best Cure

Pay attention to your body and you might be surprised to find that some of your favorite activities actually add to your pain. If you already have sleep issues, watch your alcohol intake. Drinking makes it harder to get a good night’s sleep, something you need to help manage pain.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about ways you can kick the habit. Smoking has been linked to back pain and brain activity that decreases resilience to that pain.

Watch what you eat and notice how foods affect you. Numerous foods are known to have an inflammatory effect and can exacerbate your pain. Once you have identified those foods, eliminate them from your diet.

If the research is right, the sooner you get the pain under control the less your brain will adjust to accommodate it, and the easier it will be to manage. Managing chronic pain is a challenge, but modern — and not so modern – medicine and techniques make it possible to regain your power and take back your life.

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