Weigh your option carefully when treating back pain Harvard Medical School

Whether this is your first round of back pain or your fifth, it’s always important to check in with your doctor. There are many ways to deal with low back pain — and the choices range from waiting it out to surgery. And before you can get an idea of which treatments to try, you’ll need to find out what is causing your pain. With your doctor’s guidance, you can develop a plan to ease your pain and try to make sure it doesn’t recur.

Although you may consult a number of experts (from physical therapists to neurologists) about your back pain, you are perhaps the most important person involved in your care. Be as informed as possible about the risks and benefits of any therapies you’re considering. Be very clear on your goals for treatment. Perhaps you don’t intend to hike up a mountain, but you do want to be able to comfortably do long walking tours on your next vacation. And don’t be afraid to seek out a second or even third opinion, particularly when invasive, experimental, or very expensive treatments are on the table.

Just as there is no single cause of back pain, there is no “one size fits all” solution. Once you and your doctor have evaluated the medical issues, discussed treatment goals, and narrowed down the options, how you proceed will depend largely on your personal preferences.

Pain relief is the first priority for most people with back pain. But the long-term strategy that’s right for you will depend on what triggered the pain in the first place. For example, if your back pain is the result of an injury, you might work with a physical therapist to find ways to avoid a similar injury in the future. If weak back and core muscles contributed to your back pain, you may want to start a regular exercise program to improve your fitness. If there is an anatomical problem — for example, a compressed disc — you might also need more intensive medical treatment.

Regardless of the source of your back pain, a combined approach — exercise or physical therapy, pain relief, lifestyle changes — usually yields the best outcome.

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