American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Chronic Back Pain

Many Americans have resigned themselves to pain because they simply feel it’s a normal condition. According to a recent survey by the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), close to one in two Americans say pain is part of life, while another 41% believe pain is a standard part of the aging process.

The AOA survey also found:

Pain does not discriminate. Although many people think chronic pain is a normal part of aging, it can affect anyone – regardless of age. In fact, close to 65% of Americans ages 18 to 34 have experienced chronic pain or someone they care for has experienced chronic pain during the past year.

Americans are keeping quiet. Almost 60% of Americans confess they might not talk to a medical professional if they were suffering from chronic pain. And more than one-third of Americans would refuse to take doctor-recommended pain medications because they fear becoming addicted.

Biggest pain. Back pain is the number one cause of chronic pain, or pain that affects your life for more than three months. In fact, almost half of survey respondents reported being affected by pain in this area of their body.

Back pain can be caused by almost anything – trauma from a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden or a sudden jolt such as a car accident.  Rob Danoff, DO, an AOA board-certified family physician and a fellow of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, explains common ways to treat chronic back pain.[i]

1)     Alternate hot and cold packs. Use ice or cool compresses alternating with warm moist heat (a warm moist towel works great) for 10 to 20 minutes over the affected area four to six times per day. Be sure not to put ice or hot packs directly in contact with your skin. Use a towel or other fabric wrapped around the pack to help prevent burns or freezing.

2)     Take a break. Try to lie comfortably in a well-supported bed. The best position for your back is on your side with the knees bent. A pillow between the knees may help increase comfort. Another good resting position is on your back with a pillow underneath your knees. Lying on your stomach or flat on your back with your legs straight out are not recommended positions, as they can put further pressure on your back.[ii]

3)     Stay active. When it comes to back pain, you may feel like doing nothing, but it’s actually important to keep moving as much as possible. Inactivity will lead to loss of muscle mass, flexibility and weight gain – which will only exacerbate your condition. For starters, try taking a short walk or going for a gentle swim.[iii] [iv]

4)     Maintain proper posture. Poor posture that causes stress on the discs is one of the most common causes for back pain. Good posture means: a straight line from your ears, shoulders, hips, knees and ankles; head is centered; shoulders, hips and knees are of equal height. Some of the most common posture mistakes include: forward head, rounded shoulders, arched lower back, excessive anterior pelvic tilt (protruding backside) and excessive posterior pelvic tilt (protruding abdomen/pelvis).[v]

5)     Don’t give up on finding relief. When home remedies aren’t helping, seek medical advice from an experienced osteopathic physician (DO). DOs believe that looking at the whole body with a more comprehensive approach to care will help patients find relief. Some DOs use osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) to help deal with chronic pain. With OMT, your DO will use his or her hands to move your muscles and joints through techniques that include stretching, gentle pressure and resistance. Sometimes a prescription pain medication may still be necessary along with other treatments. The important thing to remember is to consult your physician to come up with a treatment plan that is right for you.