Oh, My Aching Back

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Back Pain Treatment

There's nothing funny about back pain when it's your back and you're trying to figure out how to get off the couch. A new decision guide on MayoClinic.com (opens in new window) offers comprehensive information to help those who have chronic back pain make treatment choices.

"There's an overwhelming amount of information available on back pain," says Randy Shelerud, M.D., medical editor for MayoClinic.com and director of the Mayo Clinic Spine Center. "And many times that information is not objective. In other words, it may be a cleverly disguised advertisement. Consumers need a source for objective health information and that's what MayoClinic.com provides."

The Back Pain Guide takes about one hour to review and covers: a description of chronic back pain; anatomy of the spine; back pain symptoms and causes; and risks and benefits of treatment options. It's one of 13 detailed treatment guides on MayoClinic.com.

Chronic back pain is common. Studies indicate that 15 to 20 out of every 100 American adults have chronic back pain. Yet, it's an ailment that in many ways is poorly understood. According to the guide, doctors can't pinpoint the cause of chronic back pain for four out of five patients. The path towards recovery appears to be influenced by a complicated mix of physical, biological, psychological and social factors.

"That's why a multifaceted approach to treatment is generally needed," says Dr. Shelerud. "For example, just treating muscle spasms probably won't resolve low back pain."

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The Back Pain Guide highlights the many nuances of chronic low back pain to help patients, working with their doctors, determine the best treatment approach. Highlights of the guide include:

Treatment options: Compare the pros and cons of surgical options versus noninvasive treatments including medication, physical therapy, exercise and bracing. Complementary and alternative approaches, such as spinal manipulation, acupuncture, massages, traction and others are covered.

Meet the Doctor: Watch video clips of Dr. Shelerud offering insights and answering common questions about back pain and treatment. Transcripts of his answers are posted, too.

Personal stories: Meet two patients who made different choices to treat debilitating back pain. One decided on spinal fusion surgery to permanently connect vertebrae. The other opted for a multifaceted and noninvasive approach that included medication, exercise, heat therapy and home modifications to ease back stress.

Things to consider: Find answers to key questions that help patients and their doctors decide on treatment approaches. The guide emphasizes there is no single answer for back pain, which can be managed but not cured.

"If we maximize patients function and fitness - more realistic treatment goals - then we maximize their quality of life," says Dr. Shelerud.

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