Back pain treatment

What are back pain treatments?

Back pain treatments can relieve the chronic pain experienced by 15-20% of people in the United States. Back pain affects males and females equally and can occur at any age, with the majority of initial episodes taking place between ages 20-40. The goals of back pain treatments are to relieve symptoms and improve functioning. Back pain treatments range from conservative management to surgery depending on the cause and severity of the pain

What causes back pain?

Generally, back pain can be attributed to mechanical causes, most of which are relatively benign, although a small number of cases are due to more serious illness. Common causes of back pain include degeneration (such as osteoarthritis), muscle strain, mechanical problems (such as a herniated disc), and vertebral fractures associated with osteoporosis.

How is back pain diagnosed?

Diagnosis is done by a doctor through a comprehensive history and physical examination. Additionally, a full neurological work-up is often performed to identify compressed nerves from a herniated disc. Supplemental imaging (such as X-ray, MRI, or CT scan) is usually reserved for symptoms that persist beyond several weeks despite conservative treatment or if a physician suspects a serious pathology.

Back pain treatments

Typically, back pain accompanied by conservative treatments resolves itself within weeks. Back pain treatments include:

Pain medications

Pain-relieving medications are the initial treatment of choice for back pain. These can include over-the-counter pain medicines such as acetaminophen (Tylenol™), ibuprofen (Advil™), muscle relaxants, or prescription opioids.

Physical therapy

Physical therapy and exercise help strengthen the back to avoid future injury and speed the recovery process.

Lifestyle adjustments

Lifestyle adjustments can help to avoid aggravating movements and reduce body weight. Tobacco, alcohol and drugs, poor diet, and lack of regular physical activity have been implicated as risk factors for back pain. Modifying these risk factors, avoiding certain repetitive motions such as bending and twisting or heavy lifting, and treating obesity and depression can help prevent back pain before it occurs.

Alternative therapies

Alternative therapies such as massage, yoga, and acupuncture may provide benefit to some patients.


When conservative measures for back pain are ineffective, local anesthetics, steroids, or opiates can often be injected at the site of pain to block the conduction of pain signals to the brain.

Surgical solutions

Back pain due to a disc herniation may require surgical intervention via spinal fusion or discectomy, the removal of herniated tissue.

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