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What's the best way to get a bad back back to normal?

Q: I've always had friends and family members with back pain but I prided myself in never having that problem. Well, guess what? I'm 55-years-old, newly retired, and down with a bad back. What's the best way to get back to normal?

A: Progress has been made in the lab and in the clinic trying to find successful ways to treat back pain. Scientists say they haven't made a lot of forward progress yet. But they have been able to figure out what doesn't work.

First, inactivity and bed rest are not advised. Patients are strongly urged to rest for a day but then get back on your feet and moving. There doesn't appear to be one individual treatment method that works best for all back pain patients. A wait-and-see/keep active approach is the first line of treatment.

If symptoms don't resolve in 10-14 days, then it may be necessary to see a physician. A medical doctor can evaluate you and make sure there isn't something more serious going on. Most of the time, the cause of back pain is multifactorial. This means the back pain is the result of many factors. They may be present at the same time or add up over time.

Several studies have supported the use of manipulation, massage, and acupuncture for long-standing back pain. Specific exercise called core training may be helpful. These exercises improve muscle tone and strength in the trunk (back and abdomen). They go a long way to support and stabilize the spine.

Since there's been no work injury or trauma, you may want to consider other factors such as emotions, mental health, and overall general health. Your social situation can also be a contributing factor. Addressing each one of these with changes in behavior and lifestyle may be helpful as well.

Low Back Pain in 2008: A Vibrant Research Movement and a Stubborn Human Problem. In The BACK Letter. May 2008. Vol. 23. No. 5. Pp. 49, 55-57.