Based on health questionnaire data, back pain is one of the top health risks for U-M faculty and staff members, with nearly 24 percent being at high risk for back pain in 2012.
“Nearly all of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives,” says Dr. Dan Chapman, a physician at Occupational Health Services and an assistant professor of internal medicine. “However, it’s helpful to think of it like the common cold. Like a cold, most of us can treat back pain ourselves and it will get better, without having to visit the doctor.”
To help those in the early weeks of minor back pain, MHealthy and the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation — Spine Program have launched MHealthy Back Care (http://www.mhealthy.umich.edu/backcare), an online educational resource focusing on how to care for the back and take control of back pain.
The website includes information, videos and resources covering:
• How to take care of your back and relieve pain.
• How to build a strong, flexible back — videos demonstrate simple exercises.
• How to protect against future back pain.
“What we know is that people who are active usually have less back pain, and recover faster if they do experience it,” Chapman says. “So for most cases, even if you are experiencing back pain, it’s important to stay moving and active. You may need to take it easy for a day or so but the best thing you can do for your back is to move and continue your normal activities as much as possible. The key is to listen to your body and notice how you feel after you’re active.”
While low back pain isn’t serious for most people, the MHealthy back care website does suggest calling a doctor if back pain gets worse or doesn’t start improving after a few days, and recommends calling a doctor right away for people experiencing:
• Weakness, numbness or tingling in the leg.
• Pain spreading down the leg, especially below the knee.
• New bladder or bowel problems.
• Unexplained weight loss, fever or stomach pain.
• Constant or intense pain, especially when lying down.
• A fall, blow to the back or other injury.
• A history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or drug or alcohol abuse.
• Pain for the first time if more than 50 years old.
“If you don’t have any of these warning signs, chances are your back will start feeling a little better within a few days,” Chapman says. “Most people recover completely within a few weeks. If your back pain is not steadily improving or is still bothering you after a few weeks, see your doctor.”