If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, you know how debilitating it can be. Chronic lower back pain can impede your range of motion, your ability to sleep comfortably and live life fully. It’s the most common form of job-related disability and significantly contributes to loss of workdays — and it is also a very common ailment.
“A lot of us will run into it at some point in our lives,” says Dr. Wilfred Hynes, Director of the Pain Management Center at Tufts Medical Center. About 80% of adults will suffer from some type of back pain. Most back pain is acute (short term) and is brought on by lifting a heavy object in an inappropriate way or straining a muscle. The good news is it usually goes away on its own. Chronic back pain is different from acute back pain and persists for three months or more. The pain can vary from an annoying twinge to something so severe it affects your quality of life. It takes its toll on you, both physically and emotionally. You just want the pain to go away.
Fortunately, there are some effective ways to treat chronic back pain. “As a general rule, very few patients are surgical candidates,” Dr. Hynes says. Surgery is generally reserved for those with strength and motor issues. “The focus of our practice is the injections we do in conjunction with physical therapy,” he continues.
The main culprit of chronic lower back pain is inflammation. Administering an injection of a long-lasting steroid will “reduce inflammation and reset” the spine or disc to its non-inflamed state. Dr. Hynes says that the steroid remains in a patient’s system for about a month. He usually schedules a series of injections about four to six weeks apart. A general rule is that patients require steroidal injections three to four times a year in conjunction with physical therapy. “It is a tool that helps patients get through the exercise,” he says. “It’s another piece of the puzzle to get them better.”
Dr. Hynes and his team at Tufts Medical Center consider a full range of treatment options to manage your pain and ensure the best possible results. They realize each patient’s response to pain may be different. Your specific treatment plan is determined after careful evaluation by doctors and a physical therapy assessment.
The Pain Management Center at Tufts Medical Center differs from other academic practices in Boston because it is run by attending physicians who remain more intimately involved in patient care. “We have residents [physicians receiving on the job training] who help the attending physicians with some of the procedures, but no fellows [physicians who are training in a specialty]. At the other major hospitals, the fellows are doing the majority of the procedures. The patients at other hospitals might be followed by the fellows, and potentially covered by a different attending physician each visit.”
Although developing back pain may be inevitable, you can take steps to prevent strain and ultimately, pain. “Prevention is doing things to protect your back,” Dr. Hynes says. Learn to lift heavier objects properly — from the knees, with stomach muscles pulled in and your head aligned with a straight back. Other ways to help prevent back pain include doing exercises to strengthen your core, stretching before exercise or strenuous physical activity, and controlling your weight.
If chronic back pain is affecting your lifestyle, make an appointment with the doctors at the Pain Management Center at Tufts Medical Center. All physicians are board-certified in pain medicine and anesthesiology and are committed to compassionate care for every patient.
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