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Generalized low back pain is a huge public health problem, affecting 80 percent of people at some point during their lifetime. Low back pain can affect a person's ability to function at work or within the home and can lead to a lower perceived quality of life. Fortunately, the vast majority of the population experience self-limited back pain, meaning that symptoms resolve on their own with limited treatment.

So what causes back pain? The most common cause is a muscular strain which is typically treated with conservative measures such as ice or heat, gentle stretches, and over-the-counter medications. If pain persists despite those treatments, patients are advised to be evaluated by either their primary care physician or a physiatrist like myself. Physiatry is a non-surgical specialty that focuses on the examination and treatment of musculoskeletal and neurological disorders. Physiatrists use a wide range of non-surgical treatment options to treat problems including back pain. These may include medications, physical therapy, acupuncture, injection therapy and more.

When you see a physiatrist for back pain, the examination will focus on your mobility, strength, sensation and reflexes. The exam may also include an X-ray of the spine. If there is any neurologic dysfunction on the exam, then an MRI may be ordered. After careful examination, treatment options will be discussed and may include prescription medications such as anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxers and typically a course of physical therapy. Physical therapy focuses on strengthening the core musculature that supports the spine and can include modalities for pain management such as massage, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound therapy.

If you’re still experiencing symptoms after initial treatments, you and your physiatrist will then talk about other diagnostic studies and/or more aggressive treatment options.

Physiatry is a branch of medical care that helps restore optimal function to patients with bone, ligament, nervous system or muscular issues, without surgery.

Dr. Alicia Lazeski is a board-certified physiatrist with the OrthoCarolina Spine Center.

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