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Basics of Back Pain

Everyone''s severe. This pain generally is unrelated to other illnesses you may have. About 10 to 20 percent of all back pain is subacute. Chronic back pain usually lasts more than three months and maybe mild or severe. It may be related to other illnesses you may have or may have no identifiable cause. About five to 10 percent of all back pain is chronic.

Immediate Medical Attention

If your back pain is accompanied by any of the following, see the 1 last update 2020/05/31 a doctor today:If your back pain is accompanied by any of the following, see a doctor today:

  • Weakness or numbness in one or both legs
  • Pain going down one leg below the knee
  • Back pain from a fall or injury
  • Back pain accompanied by fever without flu-like aches
  • Pain that continues to interrupt sleep after three nights
  • Or back pain that remains after six weeks of home treatment


Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States, yet its cause is generally unidentified. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of adults have had back pain at some time and that 10 percent of all Americans have back pain in a given year. Back pain can occur at any age in both men and women. However, it may occur slightly more often in women beginning at middle age, probably due to osteoporosis.


Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability and time lost from work. Recent studies indicate that direct medical costs for lower back pain approach the $24 billion mark each year, with indirect costs (work loss, compensation) reaching approximately $35 billion for a combined total the 1 last update 2020/05/31 of nearly $60 billion.Back pain is one of the leading causes of disability and time lost from work. Recent studies indicate that direct medical costs for lower back pain approach the $24 billion mark each year, with indirect costs (work loss, compensation) reaching approximately $35 billion for a combined total of nearly $60 billion.


The back is held upright by muscles attached to the backbone. Doctors often refer to the backbone as the spine, spinal column, or vertebral column. The backbone isn''t seem too heavy, only to feel pain in your back the next day? Have you ever stretched for something that was just a little out of your reach and felt a twinge in your back? Many back injuries are caused by an unexpected twist or sudden motion. This usually results in muscle strain. With either an injury or accident, severe muscle spasms usually last 48 to 72 hours. They generally are followed by days or weeks of less-severe pain. It usually takes two to four weeks to heal completely from a mild back injury. It could take from six to 12 weeks if there are strained ligaments or if the strain is more severe. Severe back injury from a fall or accident may require hospitalization and a longer recovery period.


Osteoporosis is a type of bone disorder that causes bones to become thin and weak due to calcium loss. Fragile bones, especially those bones in the spinal column, can break more easily, and there is an increased tendency for this to happen in older women. Osteoporosis also contributes to compression fractures, or spinal fractures in which the vertebrae become flattened. Falls, lifting heavy objects or moving the wrong way can result in a compression fracture.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis causes any joint to become stiff, painful and swollen. It can affect the neck but almost never the joints in the lower back.

Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a rheumatic disorder that causes muscle pain, aching and stiffness in the neck and shoulders, lower back, thighs and hips. It can last a few months or many years. Most people experience severe stiffness in the morning.


People with fibromyalgia feel pain and stiffness in muscles and tendons, especially in the neck and upper back. The pain can last for weeks, months or years. The symptoms may disappear by themselves. This condition often is related to sleep problems, poor conditioning or an old injury.

Paget''s disease is a type of disorder in which the calcium in the bone spreads unevenly. The bones most commonly affected are in the lower back, pelvis, tailbone, skull and long bones of the legs. Back pain may be a symptom, but most often there are no obvious symptoms. Paget''d like to ask the doctor. As you think of questions at home, jot them down and take them to the appointment.

Next, your doctor will give you a physical exam. During the exam, the doctor may perform any of the following: observe your muscles and joints ask you to sit and lie down ask you to move your back in different positions observe and feel the area of most pain and/or check to see if other areas of your body are tender or painful (such as the kidneys, intestines or other organs) If the doctor can identify the likely cause of your back pain at this point, no further tests will be needed.

Diagnostic tests

Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for If the doctor needs more specific information, he or she may ask you to undergo one or more of the following lab tests:


Studies show that in many cases of routine back pain, X-rays may not initially be necessary. However, the signs and symptoms will determine what type of study should be done. In certain cases, X-rays might indicate that pain is due to: injury in one or more of the back bones a tumor in the spine a deformity in the spine ankylosing spondylitis CT Scan Only a few people with lower back pain need a CT (computerized axial tomography) scan. If your doctor advises one, a special machine takes an X-ray scan of the area. A computer turns this scan into a three-dimensional view of the back. This helps the doctor see if there is a ruptured disc that can''t be surprised if your doctor recommends weight loss as one way to reduce your back pain and improve your general health. The best way to lose weight is with a balanced diet along with regular exercise. Be sure to avoid fad diets or fast weight-loss programs.

Exercise and therapy

For many people, the key to a healthy back is proper exercise. Some exercises are designed to strengthen your back and stomach muscles, while other exercises are designed to improve your posture. A 30-minute aerobic conditioning program three times a week is ideal for overall fitness. Walking and/or water exercise are highly recommended for most people with back problems. The right kind of exercise program may help keep your back problem under control. It can make it easier for you to continue doing your daily activities. You may need to take a break from vigorous exercise if it makes your back pain worse. Ask your doctor and physical therapist which exercises you can do to relieve back pain, stay fit, and prevent injuring yourself again. The Arthritis Foundation and the University of Washington disclaim any liability for loss, personal or otherwise, resulting from the exercises presented here. If you have any leg pain or other evidence of nerve injury, consult you physician before beginning exercises. DO NOT carry out any exercise that makes your back pain worse!

Exercises for Back Pain - Videos

The video box below is a playlist containing several video examples of exercises that are useful for managing back pain. Watch them below or on our youtube channel.

Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for

Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for Rest

The most common treatment doctors recommend for severe back pain is bed rest. Different people require different amounts of rest. Usually, two to three days of staying in bed, except to go to the bathroom, will be enough to ease your back pain. You may want to ask the doctor if special pillows or devices are necessary. Sometimes these aids give additional support to your neck, back or feet.

Hot and cold treatments

Many people have found that hot and cold treatments help relieve back pain. You might try both to find out which works better for you. Heat relaxes muscles and soothes painful areas. There are many ways to apply heat. Some people like hot showers or baths, while others prefer using heat lamps, heating pads or warm compresses. If you have arthritis, heating your muscles first might make it easier for you to do back exercises. Be sure not to fall asleep while using heat. Cold has a numbing effect. This often helps relieve pain. You might try one of these methods for applying cold:

  • an ice bag
  • a large ice cube used to massage the area
  • a frozen package of vegetables (peas work best)
  • a commercially made cold pack.
  • Be sure not to leave ice on after the skin becomes numb. This could lead to localized frostbite. Do not use cold if you are especially sensitive to it or
  • have decreased circulation or sensation. Read the pain management article for more information about heat and cold.

Posture training

Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for If poor posture is a factor, then posture training may help relieve for 1 last update 2020/05/31 your back pain. During posture training, an occupational or physical therapist will teach you healthier ways to sit, stand, sleep and lift objects.If poor posture is a factor, then posture training may help relieve your back pain. During posture training, an occupational or physical therapist will teach you healthier ways to sit, stand, sleep and lift objects.

Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for Techniques for good posture:

When sitting:

  • Sit in a firm chair with armrests to relieve pressure in your back and shoulders.
  • Keep your upper back straight and shoulders relaxed. Keep stomach muscles pulled in, and maintain the proper curve in your lower back. You can do this by tightening your stomach and buttocks. Some people are more comfortable sitting with the back of the chair at a 15- to 20-degree angle. A small cushion behind the lower back to maintain the natural curve of the back also can be quite helpful.
  • Keep your knees slightly higher than your hips.
  • Use a footstool or book under your feet if necessary.
  • Keep your feet flat on the floor or other surface.
  • Don''s anti-inflammation steroid hormone. Aspirin and ibuprofen are NSAIDs. Other NSAID medications are prescribed when needed. Learn all you can about your medications by asking your doctor or pharmacist questions such as those listed below.

    Questions to ask the doctor about medications:

    • What will the medication do?
    • How long will it take before I notice results?
    • What is the name of the medication? Is there a generic brand?
    • Are there side effects I should know about?
    • How should I take the medication (i.e. before or after meals, with or without food, etc.)?
    • How often should I take the medication?
    • What should I do if I forget to take a dose at the specified time?
    • Let your doctor know if you are taking other medications. Sometimes certain medications cannot be taken together.


    People with sciatica or spinal stenosis often benefit from surgery. A few people with tumors within the spinal canal require it. Other than that, few people with back pain need surgery. Most people can be treated successfully with rest, exercise and medication. Surgery does not always work for many common kinds of back pain, and it is difficult to know who will be helped and who will not. An orthopedist can help you decide if a back operation is necessary. It is recommended that you also seek a second opinion. Unproven remedies It often is difficult to be patient when you are suffering from chronic back pain. You might be tempted to try unproven treatments. A treatment that promises "" or "" can sound wonderful. But remember, these unproven treatments usually are expensive and will do nothing for you. The sensational successes you hear about usually are illusions. They even may be harmful and often keep you from getting the medical care you really need. If you hear about a new treatment, discuss it with your doctor and get his or her advice. Strategies for coping Stress, poor posture, lack of exercise and being overweight all can contribute to back pain. Luckily, these variables can be controlled, and their effects lessened.

    Arthritis Curehow to Arthritis Cure for Relaxation training

    Many for 1 last update 2020/05/31 people relieve their back pain by doing special breathing or muscle relaxation exercises. If you have chronic back pain, check with your doctor to see if relaxation training can help.Many people relieve their back pain by doing special breathing or muscle relaxation exercises. If you have chronic back pain, check with your doctor to see if relaxation training can help.

    Weight loss, exercise, and diet

    Think about the extra pounds people carry every day due to their being overweight. This puts added pressure and strain on the back and stomach muscles, causing those muscles to stretch and weaken. Weak back and stomach muscles cannot support the back properly. Poor posture can shift your body out of balance. This forces only a few muscles and joints to do all the work. Without proper exercise, muscles become weak and tire easily. Exercise is necessary to keep the back strong and limber. A good conditioning (aerobic) exercise program led by a trained instructor can be particularly helpful. An effective program includes a warm-up period; about 30 minutes of aerobic activity (exercise that results in a sustained heart rate of l00 or more beats per minute); isolated muscle group work (including abdominal muscle toning); and a cool-down period. Over a period of time, the rewards of regular aerobic workouts can include a slimmer waistline and healthier back.

    Asking for help

    If you and your doctor decide that stress and tension are making your back pain worse, your doctor might recommend that you see a psychologist, family counselor, psychiatrist, clergyman or other mental health specialist. They can teach you how to better handle your stress. Stress Every day of our lives is filled with some kind of stress. In fact, any situation can cause stress such as work, personal relationships, raising children, paying bills, the death of a loved one or a new experience. Even very happy occasions such as a family wedding, birth of a new baby or family vacation can be stressful. For many people with back pain, the greatest stress comes from unwanted changes in their lives caused by the pain itself. People react to stress in different ways. Some may feel tired, sleep poorly, overeat, or feel irritable. Some clench their jaw. Others tighten their neck and shoulders. Still others get a headache or an upset stomach when they are tense. If your pain is acute, you may be able to reduce your stress by reminding yourself that you just need to wait until the pain disappears. However, if your pain has become chronic, you may need to take a good look at what you want to do, what you need to do and what you actually can do. Try to set some new goals that are more realistic, taking into account your pain and limitations. Talking to understanding friends and family members about your new goals and abilities can make this task easier. Many people tighten their back muscles when they are worried or tense. This can make existing back problems worse. Take a minute now to think about what happens in your own body when you worry or get tense. Do you think stress is affecting your back? Since we cannot remove everyday events from our lives, the key to managing stress is changing how we react to daily living. Think about how you react to everyday events. What methods do you have for relaxing and releasing tension from daily stress?

    Tips for managing stress:

    • First, learn to relax. There are many ways to relax and relieve stress without using drugs or alcohol or without spending a lot of money.
    • Take a warm bath.
    • Take 10-15 minutes to sit quietly and breathe deeply.
    • Get involved in your favorite hobby or learn a new hobby.
    • Start an exercise program.
    • Take a short nap.
    • Find a comfortable place for light reading.
    • Meet a friend for a walk or a chat.
    • Eat regular meals and take time to enjoy them.
    • Plan fun activities with your family or friends.
    • Do something nice for yourself.
    • Learn relaxation techniques and set aside time to practice them.
    • Take a stress management class.
    • Learn to accept what you cannot change instead of feeling constantly frustrated.
    • Try laughing instead of taking things too seriously. Take a positive outlook.
    • Learn to manage your time effectively.
    • Get professional help with problems or stresses that continue to bother you.


    Some of this material may also be available in an Arthritis Foundation brochure. Adapted from a pamphlet originally prepared for the Arthritis Foundation by John W Frymoyer, MD, Dean of the College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, Burlington, VT. This material is protected by copyright.

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