Get back pain relief with new exercises and old drugs
A: If your husband's back pain developed after doing sit-ups, it's likely due to muscle injury or spasm. Still, there are many other causes of back pain. They range from the common and benign (such as overuse or osteoarthritis) to more serious causes (including osteoporosis with fracture or a bone infection).
There are a number of over-the-counter treatments for back pain. These include:
Topical treatments. For example, Icy Hot, Bengay and Aspercreme may help.
Pain relievers. Acetaminophen (as in Tylenol and many other products) is the most popular example.
Anti-inflammatory medications. If ibuprofen has not helped, he may improve with naproxen or aspirin.
Non-drug treatments can also help. These include:
Bed rest. This should be limited to a day or two, as longer periods of bed rest may be counterproductive. This should be followed by a gradual return to normal activities, while avoiding lifting, sit-ups or other stress to the back.
Physical therapy, massage or chiropractic care.
A heating pad or cold compress.
You asked about over-the-counter options. But prescription drugs can be quite helpful for back pain. These include higher doses of ibuprofen or naproxen, muscle relaxants and more powerful pain relievers.
Finally, it's worth emphasizing that there are better exercises for the abdominal muscles than traditional sit-ups. Core exercises, such as push-ups and leg lifts, may accomplish more with less pain and risk of injury.
If your husband continues to experience back problems, he could consider an exercise program designed by an experienced trainer or physical therapist. It's likely a safer bet than slogging through a routine of sit-ups.
(Robert H. Shmerling, M.D. is a practicing physician in rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an Associate Professor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.)
(For additional consumer health information, please visit http://www.health.harvard.edu.)