When you push your back too far

When it comes to outdoor activities like playing softball or planting flowers, many of us think we can do more than our bodies are prepared to handle. Unwanted back pain is sometimes the result when we overdo it.

“We see two categories of back injury,” said Louie Williams, M.D., physical medicine and rehabilitation. “Category one includes new injuries, while category two includes patients that aggravate an old injury.”

Dr. Williams suggests that when you first feel that twinge of pain, it is best to stop what you are doing and rest your back. If pain persists, apply ice and/or heat to the affected area. Often acute pain is relieved by first applying ice. Subsequent soreness and spasms are best treated with heat. Dr. Williams suggests it may also be beneficial to use over-the-counter acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory medications. In most cases, these simple steps will help reduce pain. Most back injuries will improve without medical attention.

If these simple methods fail to get you back on your feet, it’s best to call your physician. Since every patient and injury is different, a thorough physical exam is a critical step in recommending an individualized approach to treatment.

“For more serious injuries we may suggest at least a month of physical therapy consisting of ultrasound, electric stimulation and strengthening exercises,” Dr. Williams said. If physical therapy fails to work, patients should consult with their physician about other options. “The most severe cases require surgery; however, in most situations people should exhaust all options before taking that final step,” he said.

Ultimately, the best way to keep you out in the sunshine and away from injury is to stretch before physical activity, learn the proper techniques for lifting heavy items and stay well-hydrated.

Tips for preventing back injuries

  • Stay well-hydrated.
  • Stretch your neck and back muscles.
  • Lift with your legs, not your back.
  • Ask for help when you need it.

–Michael Fitzer