December 17, 2020
Even during pre-COVID-19 times, many people ignored back and neck pain, trying to convince themselves it is not that bad or that it will go away on its own. Not surprisingly, this behavior has only increased during the pandemic as more people stay home more to avoid potential exposure to the coronavirus.
While taking precautions to avoid contracting COVID-19 is very important, it is also important not to ignore signals from your body. If you are experiencing pain, something is not right. Delaying evaluation and care for back or neck issues that don’t improve in expected time periods can lead to worsening pain, decreased mobility, neurologic conditions, and other serious health issues.
What to Do If You Experience Spine Pain
Whether you’re experiencing shooting pain, a dull ache, or other symptoms such as numbness or tingling, back and neck pain can disrupt all aspects of your life, from your sleep to work to leisure activities. Here is a plan of action to help you navigate a path to healing.
Back pain is most often due to a muscular strain or improper posture. It will typically heal on its own if you follow some simple care tactics:
- Get adequate rest
- Eat healthy and stay hydrated
- Engage in gentle stretching and exercises to strengthen your core and spine
- Over-the-counter medication, like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, may help
If The Pain Persists
If after 4-6 weeks your pain persists, it’s important to contact your primary care provider for an evaluation. This can often take place via a virtual telemedicine visit—either by phone or video.
Your provider may recommend other medications, or pursuing a course of treatment with a physical therapist—telemedicine visits are available for physical therapy. Or, at some point, a diagnostic test such as X-ray or MRI may be recommended to help identify the source of your pain.
Other possible treatment options that may be recommended include massage therapy, chiropractic treatments, relaxation techniques, and acupuncture.
Time to See a Pain Management Specialist
If your pain does not get better after physical therapy or other first-line measures, you may then be referred to a pain management physician. These doctors specialize in the diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of acute and chronic back and neck pain. They don’t perform surgery but do perform invasive procedures such as steroid injections.
When to See a Surgeon
If the treatments above are not working and your condition is serious enough to consider surgery, your doctor may recommend a visit to a spine surgeon. Again, you may be able to meet virtually for an initial consult.
Safety Precautions for In-Person Visits
When you visit a doctor’s office in person, measures are taken to keep you as safe as possible. These include: robust cleaning, social distancing, masking, and personal protective equipment (PPE).
At Lancaster Genera Health, our spine program is designed to help patients through the care process so they see the right type of health-care professional at the right time.
The bottom line is: if you are experiencing persistent back or neck pain, I encourage you to not delay in reaching out for care. Delaying care can lead to more serious problems down the road.