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Why you should not take back pain for granted

By LAI S. REYES, The Philippine STAR Published Sep 14, 2021 5:00 am

Back pain is probably the most common ailment we can all relate to. Almost everyone — young and old — experiences lower back pain at some point in his/her life, whether or not they’re into sports.

And so, it didn’t bother sports buff Juan Rafael Montaño whenever he would feel a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation after a round of basketball. But the pain got worse and persisted as he got older.

“I had to stop engaging in strenuous physical activities because I would feel this sharp pain in my neck down to my lower back,” recalled Montaño, 21, during a health webicon titled “Pain, Pain, Go Away,” presented by Cardinal Santos Medical Center as part of its health-related educational webicons.

 Improper way of lifting objects is a very common risk factor for back pain.

Still, the pain persisted, even though Montaño was no longer active in sports.

Worried about their son's medical condition, his parents decided to bring him to the hospital. Based on his MRI results, the chronic pain was caused by a tumor in his spine — not his bad posture.

“That was when I decided to consult a doctor. Several tests were conducted, but he couldn’t find anything wrong with me. My doctor thought that the pain was due to my bad posture. So he prescribed medications to manage the pain and recommended exercises to help improve my posture,” shared Montaño.

But the pain wouldnt go away to the point that Montaño already got used to it.

As years passed, the pain kept getting worse, he said. I also noticed that my right hand was starting to lose its grip and my right arm was getting numb already.

Worried about their son's medical condition, Montaños parents decided to bring him to Cardinal Santos Medical Center. Based on his MRI results, the chronic pain was caused by a tumor in his spine not his bad posture.

What I thought was a simple back pain could have cost me my life, said Montaño.

Through the expert and caring hands of his doctors, who successfully removed the tumor through surgery, he now has a new lease on life.

Pain, pain go away

One should never really take back pain for granted, said Dr. Joanna Macrohon, consultant at the CSMC Department of Rehabilitation Medicine.

According to the lady doctor, simple back pain has many repercussions.

It can cause disability, resulting in decreased productivity and loss of income, she explained. This in turn leads to early retirement, and in Montaños case, reduced activities as well.

Back pain can range from muscle aches to shooting, burning or stabbing sensations.

Bending, twisting, lifting heavy loads or prolonged sitting, prolonged standing or prolonged walking may further provoke the pain, noted Dr. Macrohon. It usually affects our neck, upper back, and lower back.

Dr. Macrohon shares some of the risk factors that make us predisposed to back pain:

  • Age. Back pain becomes more common as we grow older, starting at around 30 to 40. “Because this is the time when signs of wear and tear show up,” said Dr. Macrohon. “Lack of exercise is also a risk factor. Since your muscles are weak and unused, they are unable to fully support your spine.”
  • Obesity. The excess weight that is carried by an obese person puts additional strain and pressure on his/ her back.
  • Improper way of lifting objects. This is a very common risk factor.
  • Arthritis. Some types of arthritis and cancer can also contribute to back pain. Also, those who suffer from depression or anxiety have greater risks as well.
  • Smoking. Smoking can alter your blood supply.

When the back pain persists, when is the best time to see the doctor? Dr. Macrohon recommends:

  • When the pain persists for more than a few weeks.
  • If you have bowel or bladder problems such as incontinence or constipation.
  • When pain is accompanied by fever, or when the pain is caused by trauma.
  • If the pain doesn’t improve despite medications and other home therapies.
  • If your pain is causing weakness, numbness or tingling sensation, or if the pain is accompanied by weight loss.

Once you see your doctor, he or she may request any of the following: EMG-NCV or electromyography and nerve-reduction velocities.

“EMG-NCV is available at CSMC,” noted Dr. Macrohon. “This is a peripheral nerve and muscle test, which helps the doctor determine and prognosticate if problems such as weakness, numbness or neck or low back pains may arise.”

EMG-NCV also indicates where the damaged nerve is and how bad it is damaged.

“MRI may also be requested for any structural changes. Through MRI, the doctors were able to diagnose Montaño’s condition,” she added. “Your doctor may also prescribe physical therapy. Our Rehabilitation Department boasts up-to-date physical agents and state-of-the-art machines (robotics) to improve the muscle flexibility, strength and endurance,” she added.

Montaño could attest to this. Because after his spinal surgery, he noticed that he could no longer open his right hand.

“I would go three times a week for my rehab sessions,” Montaño said. “Dr. Eric Sherwin Basuil, chairman of the hospital’s Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, and the physical therapists were very accommodating and attentive to my concerns. With their help, I was able to recover.”

Pain, weakness and immobility are shackles that must be broken with a combination of diagnostics, therapeutic interventions, prescription of physical modalities, exercises, pharmaceuticals, orthotics and prosthetics.

“That is rehabilitation medicine,” explained Dr. Eric Sherwin Basuil. “Medicine may add years to your life, but rehabilitation medicine adds life to those years.”