With 34 million Americans suffering from low back pain, it should come as no surprise that it ranks second only to the common cold in reasons for visiting the doctor. In fact, up to 85 percent of all people will experience back pain at some point in their life.
Back pain is a pretty common problem among Alliance Coal employees and their family members. According to Dr. Raymond Wells, the good news is that most cases of low back pain tend to get better on their own within two weeks to three months. “I understand that it can be terribly uncomfortable and inconvenient, but patience and a little common sense are all that’s typically needed for a full recovery,” advises Dr. Wells.
Initial treatment should include taking a Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug (NSAID) like aspirin or ibuprofen. As soon as possible following injury, Dr. Wells suggests patients apply a cold pack or compress for 20 minutes several times per day. After a few days of cold treatment, they should then apply heat for brief periods to relax muscles and increase blood flow to the area. This can help reduce pain and inflammation and allow greater mobility. “And keep bed rest to a minimum,” adds Dr. Wells.
This advice, which surprises many people, is based on a study that found people who continued their activities without bed rest following the onset of low back pain appeared to have better back flexibility than those who rested in bed for a week. Other studies suggest that bed rest alone may make back pain worse and can lead to secondary complications such as depression, decreased muscle tone, and blood clots in the legs.
If you don’t notice any improvement within five days or the episode doesn’t fully resolve within a few weeks, then Dr. Wells recommends you visit your on-site Health Center. “People often over-react when experiencing low back pain and immediately head to the ER in search of an MRI and a quick fix,” says Dr. Wells. “Unfortunately, neither will usually do them any good.”
In cases that become “chronic”—lasting longer than 12 weeks and failing to respond to conservative care—Dr. Wells may refer the patient for more advanced diagnostics and treatment. But even then, the objective is always to resolve the problem without the added risk of narcotic drugs or surgery.
*Employees should immediately report an on-the-job injury to their supervisor.