When to Medicate Back Pain

When to Medicate Back Pain

Back pain is a leading cause of disability, and spinal instability is often at the root of the problem. one in five Americans has chronic pain and is desperate for an effective and safe solution. There are numerous treatments available, such as cortisone injections and pain medications, but unfortunately, these only cover up the pain and can lead to an endless and possibly dangerous pain cycle.

When patients suppress pain with corticosteroid shots, anti-inflammatory and narcotic medications, they are, essentially, not allowing the body to “sound the pain alarms” and have little hope of curing the pain at the source. For a family to go about their normal business during a fire, just because the alarm is not sounding, would also be deadly.

When healing doesn’t occur naturally, and pain becomes chronic, low-back pain can be disabling, interfering with many aspects of life. Pain protects the body from further harming itself. Anyone who takes anti-inflammatory medications for painful joints runs the risk of increasing joint damage. Choosing to do nothing only leads to more destructive joint motion. 

To permanently alleviate pain, it must be addressed at the source. When low-back pain continues despite treatments, many are surprised to learn that the source of the majority of back pain begins with an injury to the ligaments. 

Ligaments connect vertebrae and provide critical spinal stability. Ligaments are also full of nerves, as opposed to discs or cartilage which are often wrongfully blamed as the source of pain. When standing, bending, and turning, ligaments keep these motions in check by allowing the vertebrae to move but not too much. When the back is injured from a force greater than the ligaments can withstand, ligaments become stretched out and weakened. In this state, ligaments can’t stabilize that area of the spine properly.

Until ligament issues are resolved, treatments that focus on other areas such as muscles and trigger points are only likely to result in temporary relief. Treatments that encourage blood flow to the originally injured area are ideal to naturally activate the body’s own repair resources. 

Last year the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality performed a review of published research. It found good evidence that natural therapies like chiropractic helped with long-term relief from chronic back, neck pain and headaches. Chiropractic care helps realign, stabilize and eliminate joint pain.

Remember, chronic pain is not due to a corticosteroid or anti-inflammatory drug deficiency. I recommend not removing the batteries when the pain alarm is going off, but rather, take a more active role in finding out how to put the fire out for good.


Dr. Tim Heath DC, MBA, CCEP, is a board-certified primary care doctor who runs Optimized Wellness Center, a multidisciplinary functional medicine practice in Alameda. Call 497-4424 for more information.