Physical activity can also help you feel better. “Along with boosting your overall health, exercise can improve your OA symptoms” like pain, stiffness, fatigue, and even depression, says Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, associate director of the University of North Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center. One study found that people with knee OA who worked out regularly lowered their pain by 12% compared to those who didn’t.
Following any period of prolonged inactivity, a regimen of low-impact exercises is advised. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes daily can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Consult a physician for a list of low-impact, age-appropriate exercises that are specifically targeted to strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles.
Complaints of low back pain are one of the most common reasons people visit doctors. For pain that has lasted only a few weeks, the pain is likely to subside on its own. Thus, if a person's medical history and physical examination do not suggest a specific disease as the cause, medical societies advise against imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Individuals may want such tests but, unless red flags are present, they are unnecessary health care. Routine imaging increases costs, is associated with higher rates of surgery with no overall benefit, and the radiation used may be harmful to one's health. Fewer than 1% of imaging tests identify the cause of the problem. Imaging may also detect harmless abnormalities, encouraging people to request further unnecessary testing or to worry. Even so, MRI scans of the lumbar region increased by more than 300% among United States Medicare beneficiaries from 1994 to 2006.
Health care professionals diagnose hip pain with a history and physical examination. Physical examination maneuvers, such as internally and externally rotating the hip, can be used to detect pain-aggravating positions. Tenderness can be elicited by palpating over inflamed areas. Straight leg raising can detect signs of sciatica. A health care professional may use imaging studies, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans, to further define the causes of hip pain. Sometimes, nuclear medicine bone scans are used to image inflamed or fractured bone.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) relieve pain and inflammation and include OTC formulations (ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen sodium). Several others, including a type of NSAID called COX-2 inhibitors, are available only by prescription. Long-term use of NSAIDs has been associated with stomach irritation, ulcers, heartburn, diarrhea, fluid retention, and in rare cases, kidney dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. The longer a person uses NSAIDs the more likely they are to develop side effects. Many other drugs cannot be taken at the same time a person is treated with NSAIDs because they alter the way the body processes or eliminates other medications.
The use of lumbar supports in the form of wide elastic bands that can be tightened to provide support to the lower back and abdominal muscles to prevent low back pain remains controversial. Such supports are widely used despite a lack of evidence showing that they actually prevent pain. Multiple studies have determined that the use of lumbar supports provides no benefit in terms of the prevention and treatment of back pain. Although there have been anecdotal case reports of injury reduction among workers using lumbar support belts, many companies that have back belt programs also have training and ergonomic awareness programs. The reported injury reduction may be related to a combination of these or other factors. Furthermore, some caution is advised given that wearing supportive belts may actually lead to or aggravate back pain by causing back muscles to weaken from lack of use.
If low back pain gets worse or does not improve after two to three days of home treatment, contact a primary-care physician. The physician can evaluate the patient and perform a neurological exam in the office to determine which nerve root is being irritated, as well as rule out other serious medical conditions. If there are clear signs that the nerve root is being compressed, a physician can prescribe medications to relieve the pain, swelling and irritation; he or she also may recommend limitation of activities. If these treatment options do not provide relief within two weeks, it may be time to consider other diagnostic studies and possibly surgery.