Aching back? There are ways to ease the pain | Dr. Petter

Ninety percent of people experience back pain at some point during their lives. Back pain is one of the top-10 reasons people go in to see their primary care doctor.

Back pain is a symptom; the cause of the pain can be wide and varied. Back pain can originate from injury or disease involving the bones, disc, muscle, nerves, ligaments and/or tendons in the surrounding area.

In addition, non-muscle-skeletal structures can cause or contribute to back discomfort as well. Examples may include kidney stone or infection, abdominal aneurysm or ulcer.

Improper body mechanics are a very common cause of lower back pain. A simple split-second wrong push, pull, twist or lift can render even the most fit individual temporarily incapacitated.

The good news is that for 50 percent of the people who develop back pain, the problem resolves itself within one week, whether you see a doctor not.

Tips to alleviate back pain:

1. Ice or heat – use whichever is more comfortable. Typically an ice pack helps to decrease swelling, and a heating pad helps to dilate vessels and relax muscles. Use the "20/20 rule:" 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off, and repeat several times a day.

2. Consider an anti-inflammatory (i.e., Ibuprofen or Advil, Aleve). These medications decrease inflammation and therefore decrease pain. Take them with food to avoid developing an ulcer. Do not exceed more than three tablets every eight hours, unless directed by a doctor. And, do not take for longer than 14 days, unless directed by a doctor.

3. Tylenol (acetaminophen) can be used with anti-inflammatoryies to decrease pain. Do not exceed more than eight tablets in a day for three to five days, unless directed by a doctor.

4. Glucosamine/Chondroiten 1,500 milligrams (mgs) in a divided dose can decrease joint pain. Do not take with medication if you are allergic to Sulfa drugs.

5. Omega-3 fish oil 2,000 to 4,000 mgs a day helps decrease inflammation, thereby reducing pain.

6. Topical: Topricin (a topical anti-inflammatory cream) may be applied to the area of pain up to three to four times a day.

7. Walking and gentle stretching.

8. Consider massage therapy.

If your back pain does not get better within one to two weeks, or your symptoms increase, be sure to see your doctor.

Dr. Linda Petter of Auburn is a weekly feature on KOMO TV/Newsradio (1000 AM and 97.7 FM) every Saturday and Sunday at 7:45 a.m. and 9:45 a.m. She trained at the Mayo Clinic and the University of Illinois, Carle Hospital. Petter is chief of the Department of Family Practice at St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way. She is a consumer healthcare advocate and author of two books ("Healthcare On a Budget" and "Common Medical Sense"). Visit her website,, or call her office at 253-568-0841.

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