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Treating chronic back pain without surgery

August 19, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
It's one of the worst health complaints adults have: back pain. For some it comes and goes, but for many the pain is chronic.

But a diagnosis of back pain doesn't necessarily mean going under the knife. Experts say the majority of it can be treated without surgery or medical intervention.

As a speech therapist, 31-year-old Kristine Cho speaks for a living, but lately all she's been able to talk about is her aching back.

"It tends to be my lower left back and I noticed it more because I had sort of a shooting pain through my hamstring," she said. "It's gotten a little bit worse over the last two months."

Two-thirds of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. The good news is most cases are best treated without surgery or injects of any sort, according to Dr. Kevin Pelton, an orthopedic surgeon at White Memorial Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"So anything we can do to avoid those things I think is beneficial," he said.

The first piece of advice is to drink plenty of water.

"If there's a lot of lactic acid or other materials or toxins that have built up from different muscle problems, muscle aches, if you stay hydrated you can help flush those out of your system," said Dr. Pelton.

You should also stretch daily.

"I tell my patients at the beginning of the day get in a hot shower you can try to bend forward grab your ankles or grab your knees and very slowly come up trying to extend one vertebrae at a time," said Dr. Pelton.

A lot of the pain comes from tight muscles. For this, Dr. Pelton says apply a hot compress and work in a massage or any other relaxing therapies that also help manage stress.

"Most of those patients can be treated without surgery, both with physical therapy, massage therapy, chiropractic treatment, acupuncture, meditation,' said Dr. Pelton.

To reduce back pain, you've got to get moving.

"There are plenty of studies that show you can lose weight, take the stress off your back, move your center of gravity towards your back, stay flexible and really strengthen what we call the core," said Dr. Pelton.

Cho hopes these tips plus advice from her physical therapist will stop her back from getting any worse.

"The advice was to change my posture, exercise more and be more conscious about my posture alignment," said Cho.

Dr. Pelton says if you're experiencing acute back pain for more than three or four days, it's time to see a doctor.

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