Lower Back Pain

February 19, 2018

I always managed my on-and-off lower back pain with heat, rest, maybe a pain pill… At my new job, I sit most of the day. Now it’s a constant dull ache. What would you suggest?

Approximately 80 per cent of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives, and it sounds like you’re part of that 80 per cent. Unlucky you.

While low back pain isn’t uncommon, the good news is most cases are short-lived. That means the back pain will resolve on its own and can be self-managed with over-the-counter pain relievers, heat or ice packs, and, of course, staying active. Many people think bed rest is a good way to manage back pain, but in reality, prolonged bed rest and immobility can make the pain worse.

Unfortunately, 20-25 per cent of people will go on to experience chronic low back pain, which is pain lasting longer than three months. Treatment of chronic low back pain is complex and requires a customized approach, so if you’re now having constant low back pain, I would suggest you consult with your doctor to determine what treatment option is most appropriate for you based on your unique health history. There are many treatment options available with varying degrees of effectiveness and risks, including opioid medications like oxycodone.

Obviously, this is a big societal topic now. While opioid medications are very effective at relieving certain types of pain, such as cancer pain, pain after surgery, or a serious injury, there isn’t much evidence that shows they’re as effective in treating chronic non-cancer pain. In contrast, there is well-documented evidence of the risks associated with long-term opioid use, including addiction, overdose, and death (which, unfortunately, we read too much about in the news). In addition, new evidence shows that long-term opioid use may actually make people more sensitive to pain – a condition called opioid-induced hyperalgesia. This results in people requiring higher doses of the opioid over time to control pain. No surprise: the higher the dose, the higher the risk of addiction, overdose, and death.

While opioids may still have a role to play in the treatment plan for some patients, non-opioid medications are safer and, in many instances, more effective at relieving chronic low-back pain. There’s also strong evidence that physiotherapy and exercise programs aimed at increasing flexibility and strengthening your lower back and abdominal muscles, including yoga and Pilates, not only provide relief but in fact may help prevent low back pain.

As for your situation, it sounds like your pain is being aggravated by prolonged sitting which is known to put a strain on the back muscles.  I would suggest that you try to change positions regularly and introduce more movement throughout your day. For instance, stand if you’re on the phone or in a meeting and go for a walk during your lunch time. Simple things, but they can really help.