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Chronic Back Pain: What you can do to find relief and care

Adult woman stands in front of a desk, stretching her back.

If you have chronic back pain, here are some options to explore.

Is there any move you make during the day that doesn’t make your back hurt? 

If you’re among the 30% of Americans living with chronic back pain, you can feel how much of your back you put into what you do every day.

Picking up your 3-year-old. Pulling clothes from the dryer. Starting your lawn mower. Even getting into or out of your car.

If you have chronic back pain — the kind that lasts more than three months — you might wonder what you can do to find relief.

What causes back pain

Your primary care provider can help you try to identify the cause of your back pain. It could be from:

  • Overuse
  • Injury
  • Illness
  • Changes that happen as you get older

Whatever the cause, your provider can work with you to find the right treatment. That might include seeing a physical therapist, taking medication or visiting an orthopedic specialist. 

If you’re experiencing severe pain, numbness, weakness or any other concerning symptoms, it’s important to seek care as soon as possible. 

Tips for relief

If you’re waiting for an appointment or want to try something at home before you see a provider, here are a few ideas from Joel Hoekema, MD, a PeaceHealth orthopedic surgeon, for finding relief:

Exercise: Regular movement can help strengthen your muscles, improve flexibility and reduce pain. Too much exercise can cause further injury or discomfort. Low-impact movement that you may find helpful includes walking, stretching, yoga, pilates and swimming. Watch this video on how movement helps.

Maintain good posture: Poor posture like slouching when sitting or standing can put unnecessary strain on your neck and back. This can lead to increased pain and discomfort. Keep your head and shoulders back and sit up straight. This can help reduce pain and avoid further injury. Learn more about proper sitting for a healthy back.

Hot and cold therapy: The tried and true method of alternating a heating pad and ice can make a real difference. If you’re feeling aches and pain, try using a hot water bottle or heating pad for 20 minutes. Follow it up with a cold compress or ice pack for another 20 minutes to reduce swelling. Read more about heat/ice therapy.

Over-the-counter pain medications: Medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Advil) can reduce pain and swelling. Be sure to follow the instructions on these medications. Talk with your provider or a pharmacist for advice on how many pills are safe to take and for how many days. 

Massage therapy or chiropractic care: Getting a massage can help loosen tight muscles. It can also help improve circulation and reduce pain. A licensed massage therapist can work with you to build a treatment plan that meets your needs. You can also use a tennis ball to massage your back at home. You can also consult a chiropractor to explore your options.

If these therapies aren’t relieving your pain as much as you’d like, talk to your doctor. Your PeaceHealth primary care provider can help you consider available solutions.  

portrait of Joel R. Hoekema MD

Joel R. Hoekema MD

Joel Hoekema, MD, joined the PeaceHealth Medical Group Orthopedics & Sports Medicine team of providers in September 2018. Dr. Hoekema seeks to compassionately meet the needs of all patients in need of comprehensive orthopedic surgery, including lumbar and cervical spine surgery. Dr. Hoekema began his professional life as a mechanical engineer at Boeing after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Washington. Four years later, he refined his choice to mechanics of a different, human kind and returned to medical school to use his skills to serve others. After completion of his residency at the University of Washington in 2000, he accepted a one-year fellowship in spinal surgery at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He has been practicing medicine in the Bellingham community since 2001. In his free time, Dr. Hoekema enjoys an active lifestyle that includes taking in all the Pacific Northwest has to offer. He likes to bicycle, hike, hunt and fish. He has paddled in the Ski to Sea Race for 22 years.