Keep your chin up

Did you know as many as 97% of people have neck and back pain at some point in their lives, and 80% will seek treatment for it?

The good news is that there are many ways to safely manage pain. Finding relief is an ongoing process that varies for everyone. So, if you are suffering from neck or back pain, keep your chin up. With new research into safe pain treatment, you are now more likely than ever to be able to get the relief you need.

Acute vs. Chronic Pain

Pain falls into two basic categories: acute and chronic. Acute pain can be momentary, or it may last for up to months. This kind of pain has a direct cause, such as a broken bone. It can be mild or severe, but it tends to disappear after the underlying cause has been treated or healed.

Chronic pain is defined as any pain that lasts for 3 to 6 months or more. It can affect your daily life and mental health. It is estimated that as many as 50 million Americans live with chronic pain.

For many people, chronic pain results from an injury or health condition. Some of the leading causes include:

· Past injuries or surgeries

· Back or neck problems

· Migraines and other headaches

· Arthritis

· Nerve damage

· Infections

· Fibromyalgia, a condition where people feel muscle pain

Serious Symptoms

Seek immediate medical attention if your back or neck pain also includes:

· Significant weakness

· Changes in bladder function

· Inability to walk

· Changes in your ability to balance

Getting to the Source

No matter what kind of pain you are suffering from, it is important to be evaluated by a healthcare provider to help pinpoint the source of the problem. Prepare for your appointment by jotting down a list of your symptoms, including:

· When you first experienced the pain

· What you were doing at the time

· What kind of pain it is (sharp, dull, burning, etc.)

· What you have done so far to try to get relief

This information can help them tailor a treatment plan for you.

Sometimes what appears to be back pain, for example, will actually be hip pain. They may perform diagnostic tests, such as X-rays and MRIs to help troubleshoot the cause of pain. They may also refer you to a specialist in pain management if needed.

Finding Relief

One of the challenges of chronic pain is that everyone experiences pain differently. Two people might have the same condition, but one may have very little pain while the other is in agony.

Even seemingly simple fixes, such as posture adjustments, can help alleviate pain. Pain management centers can be an option for dealing with chronic pain. Typically offered by hospitals, they are staffed by medical personnel trained in a variety of areas. They usually offer a cross-section of treatments from massage to medication to acupuncture. They may also provide physical and occupational therapies, which can help improve strength and reduce pain.


For some people, within a month of home treatment, some back pain improves. However, everyone is different and back and neck pain can be complex conditions. Treatments can include medications to lessen pain, physical therapy to strengthen muscles, stress reduction and weight loss can be effective.

However, depending on the type of pain you have, your doctor might recommend the following:

· Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve), may help. Take these medications only as directed by your healthcare provider. Overuse can cause serious side effects. If OTC pain relievers do not help your pain, they may suggest a prescription-strength instead.

· Muscle relaxants. Your healthcare provider may also prescribe a muscle relaxant if mild to moderate pain does not improve with OTC pain relievers. Muscle relaxants can make you dizzy and sleepy.

· Topical pain relievers. Creams, ointments applied to your skin, or patches can help relieve pain.

· Antidepressants. Some types of antidepressants can relieve chronic pain.

· Narcotics. Drugs containing opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, may be used for a short time with very close supervision by your doctor. However, opioids don’t work well for chronic pain, so your prescription will usually provide less than a week’s worth of pills. If you are prescribed an opioid pain reliever, be sure to ask your doctor a key question: How long will I need to take this? If you are still on it after two weeks because you are in pain, ask your physician for other options or seek out a second opinion.

Physical Therapy

A physical therapist can work with you to help improve your posture, increase your flexibility, and strengthen your muscles. They can also teach you how to modify your movements when you are experiencing pain.

Surgical and Other Procedures

Procedures used to treat back neck and back pain may include:

Cortisone injections. If other methods do not help your pain, and if your pain moves down your leg, your doctor may inject a strong anti-inflammatory drug called cortisone. This can help decrease inflammation around the nerve roots, but the pain relief typically only lasts for one to two months.

Surgery. If you have severe pain or symptoms that interfere with your mobility and everyday activities, and you regularly rely on painkillers, your healthcare provider may recommend surgery.

There are many minimally invasive surgeries to treat neck and back pain. In general, surgeons can avoid large incisions, which can result in reduced recovery times. Often a patient can be walking around the same day or the day after surgery and be back to normal activity levels in two to three weeks.

Disc replacements are minimally invasive surgeries and tend to work well for younger patients as an alternative to fusing discs to decrease back pain. In addition, computer navigation (using a camera in the surgical procedure) has made the process safer and less invasive.


1. Appropriate pain medication

2. Physical therapy to strengthen muscles

3. Weight-loss programs

4. Stress reduction

5. Quitting smoking

To schedule an appointment at Lovelace Women’s Hospital Pain Clinic, call 505.727.1515.

To seek treatment for opioid abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) or go to