5 biggest mistakes you can make when you have back or neck pain
It’s estimated that 4 out of 5 adults will have an attack of back pain at some point in their lives. That’s the bad news. The good news is that 80% of the time, simple back and neck pain can go away on its own. However, the spine specialists at SpineCenterNetwork.com, a national network of independent spine centers, note that there will be thousands of Americans who will self-diagnose themselves incorrectly in 2019, which could lead to permanent problems.
According to Mark Palumbo, MD — a fellowship-trained spine surgeon, professor of spine surgery at Brown University in Rhode Island, and a founder of the Center for Spine Health — the most serious problem is that people don’t understand the emergency symptoms of back pain, which can lead to nerve symptoms that become permanent and lifelong. “We recognize that people will self diagnose themselves, but they usually do it with the wrong information,” Dr. Palumbo explains. He cites the 5 most serious mistakes a person can make in 2019 related to back or neck pain:
Mistake #1. Pain is NOT a good indicator of when you need to go to the doctor.
“Unlike other health issues or joint problems, with back issues, pain is NOT a good indicator of when you need to see a doctor,” explains Dr. Palumbo. “A simple back strain or spasm can cause excruciating pain that knocks you down to your knees. But a simple strain never requires surgery. It can resolve on its own with anti-inflammatories and some rest.”
Mistake #2. Waiting too long can cause numbness symptoms to become permanent.
Dr. Palumbo instead cautions that a numb hand or numb foot from a herniated disc needs to be seen by a spine specialist within a couple days or you risk that symptom becoming permanent. “A herniated disc that presses on a nerve root over several weeks can create a permanent crimp that may not be corrected with a surgery,” Dr. Palumbo explains. “That can cause that numb foot or numb hand, or weakness, to become permanent. So pain isn’t a good indicator of an emergency.” Patients can download a symptom chart for back and neck pain, and request a free 36-page Home Remedy Book on back pain through the credentialed spine centers listed at SpineCenterNetwork.com.
Mistake #3. Using drugs to mask symptoms creates a bigger problem.
The second mistake people make with back or neck pain is reaching for the pill bottle. “Pain pills only mask symptoms, they don’t change the physiology of the back,” Dr. Palumbo explains. “Worse, painkillers like opioids are quickly addictive, creating a bigger problem for you than your back injury.”
Mistake #4. The wrong home remedies can be counter-productive.
A sore back is not like a sore knee. “With back pain, research has shown conclusively that bed rest beyond a day or so is actually bad for the back,” says Dr. Palumbo. “Instead, some movement is good for a back strain, like specific stretches and a 20 minute walk. Movement is like WD-40 for the back. The other problem relates to over-use of ice and heat. Most insurance companies don’t pay for a therapist to use ice or heat in therapy — because they view it to be palliative, meaning it feels good but cures nothing. Instead, spine therapists use stretches and hands-on therapy to relieve symptoms.”
Mistake #5. Spine surgery should be your last treatment option, not first.
“Americans love a quick fix, a magic pill or magic surgery,” says Dr. Palumbo. “It’s okay to use watchful waiting for a month or so for pain that radiates into an arm or leg. Spinal injections can provide relief for symptoms. But if symptoms progress and worsen to numbness or weakness, then spine surgery may be necessary.”