How To Decide When To Get Help For Your Back Or Neck Pain

Health & Medical Blog

The odds are against you. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 80 percent of the population will experience back pain at some point in their lives. You may have overdone it when cleaning out the garage or when lifting a bag of mulch that was too heavy. Now you have pain in your back or neck with sharp pains going down your arm or leg. Do you call the doctor? Here are some ways to decide how to spend your day.

When the Doctor is the Best Choice

There are a few back pain situations that demand the attention of your doctor. If you wait, your pain will get worse and you may find yourself in bed and unable to move your back, neck, legs or arms. These conditions include:

  • your back or neck pain came on suddenly after an injury
  • your sleep is disrupted because of the pain
  • your back, legs or arms are numb below the place where the injury occurred
  • the sharp pains radiating down one or both legs or arms are frequent and severe

In these cases, your pain won't go away without the help of a doctor. You likely have a ruptured disc in your neck or back. These discs normally provide a cushion between the bones in your spine. When ruptured, they can press on the spinal cord or the bundles of nerves extending out from your spine. An orthopedic surgeon may need to perform surgery to remove part of the disc to relieve the pressure on the nerves.

When Going Back to Work is an Option

Many back and neck injuries just affect the muscles and will heal in a few weeks. You can try to go back to work if you experience the following:

  • your pain is relieved by over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain medications
  • your pain is gone or minimized if you sit or stand using good posture
  • your pain is more of a dull ache than a sharp pain

These are good signs that you have a muscle injury and if you protect your back throughout the day, going back to work is an option.

Managing Your Back or Neck Injury at Work

If you've decided to go to work with back or neck pain, pay attention to how you move your body to give your muscles a chance to rest:

  • When sitting down or getting out of a chair, use your arms on the desk or arm rests and resist bending at your waist.
  • While sitting, have a cushion behind your lower back to support your lumber spine.
  • When picking up something, bend your knees and keep your back straight.
  • Use the elevator instead of the stairs for a few days to give your lower back a break.

Take frequent breaks from sitting or standing. A change in position will allow your muscles to relax. Avoid any position which causes your back and neck muscles to be tense for long periods. This tires your already damaged muscles and can worsen the pain.

Following Up with Your Back or Neck Pain

If after a few days back at work your pain level has increased or stayed the same, contact your doctor. At this point, your muscle injury is not likely to heal itself. It may be severe enough to require physical therapy, like that available from Wasilla Physical Therapy, prescription muscle relaxants and pain medications, or even surgery to correct.


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