What are my chances of full recovery for back pain?

Q: I'm back to work after four weeks off for back pain but the pain isn't gone. I just suck it up and do my job, but I'm wondering if I'll ever get back to my old self. What are my chances for a full recovery?

A: Without knowing more of the details of your specific situation, it is difficult to predict what may happen. We do know from the many studies done in this area that on any given day in America, 10 per cent of the people are experiencing back pain. And that over the course of a lifetime, 80 per cent of all adults will have back pain at some time.

Does this mean that once you have back pain, you'll always have back pain? No, most people (80 to 90 per cent) recover fully. But the chances of developing chronic pain increase with time. Studies show that people who have an episode of back pain who still have pain six months later are more likely to have recurrences and even become chronic pain patients. But again, this doesn't mean that you will end up in the chronic category.

No one knows yet why some people recover from a bout with back pain and others don't. There are so many variables to consider: age, sex (male or female), education level, satisfaction with work - home - life in general, income level, occupation, and so on. Research is ongoing to find predictive risk factors as well as look for ways to prevent back pain in the first place. Others are searching for ways to foster healing, recovery, and avoid recurrences.

If you have not explored treatment options, now might be a good time to check into some approaches to back pain. A medical doctor can advise you regarding medications to control pain and evaluate you to see if you might be a good candidate for other medical procedures to eliminate pain.

Other treatment known to provide benefits in recovery include: spinal manipulation, acupuncture, yoga, exercises, massage, or physiotherapy. Sometimes it is necessary to find the right combination that will work for you. It can take time but it's worth it when you are pain free once again.

Reference: Wolf E. Mehling, MD, et al. The Prognosis of Acute Low Back Pain in Primary Care in the United States. In Spine. April 15, 2012. Vol. 37. No. 8. Pp. 678-684.

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