Neurological and Spine Institute

Coming Back from Back Pain

Back pain, neck pain and lower back pain are all common symptoms associated with many different health problems. Most back pain is not a medical emergency, and most patients recover within a few weeks through self-care at home.

Sometimes it is hard to know whether you should see a doctor, go to the emergency room or simply heal at home. Use this guide to help you seek the most appropriate care for your situation. If you still aren’t sure, you can always call Riverside Nurse, a 24-hour a day free community resource for assistance. They can be reached at 757-595-6363 or 1-800-675-6368.

Self-Care at Home

For most back pain issues, treatment at home is all that is needed. If you have strained your back or live with chronic low back pain, try these home treatments.

  • Rest
  • Alternating ice and heat
  • Over the counter Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory (NSAID) medications, such as Advil or Aleve
  • Massage
  • Gentle stretching
  • Walking

Unfortunately, most back strains take time to heal, and there isn’t a medicine that can make it heal faster. While some people are back to normal after a few days, others may not return to normal for 3-4 weeks. While recovering, it is important to maintain as much regular movement as possible to keep your core muscles strong and flexible. But be careful to not aggravate the injury. Avoid movements that could re-injure your back, such as bending at the waist to lift something, twisting the body, or sitting with bad posture.

Primary Care or Urgent Care for Back Pain

When home treatment is not enough, it may be time to seek medical care. If your pain has not improved after a week, you should make an appointment to see your primary care provider. You should also see your primary care provider if you live with chronic low back pain so they can rule out other problems.

The provider will conduct a physical exam and talk with you about the history of the pain and what makes it worse or better. Depending on what the provider finds, they may order additional diagnostic tests, such as an X-ray or lab work to help provide a diagnosis.

To schedule an appointment with your Riverside Primary Care Provider use MyChart or call for an appointment. If you do not have an established Riverside Primary Care Provider, please call us to help you schedule an appointment at 757-534-5352 or on the Eastern Shore at 757-302-2835 .

Riverside’s OrthoConnect office also sees patients with back problems. They can conduct the initial exam, evaluate the source of the back pain and order any diagnostic testing needed. There are OrthoConnect offices in Newport News , Williamsburg and Gloucester. Call OrthoConnect at 757-534-5600 to schedule an appointment at any of the three locations.

If you do not have a primary care provider, or need to seek care during the evening or weekends, visiting an urgent care office is also an option. Riverside’s M.D. Express Urgent Care offices are available in Newport News, Hampton, Yorktown, Gloucester and Williamsburg. For phone numbers and addresses, please see the M.D. Express website.

Whether you seek care at a primary care office, OrthoConnect or an urgent care location, the initial line of recommendations will be similar. Common treatments for back problems include physical therapy, medications like muscle relaxers or a referral to a specialty physician to discuss more advanced pain management procedures or spinal surgery.

Specialty Referrals for Pain Management Procedures or Spinal Surgery

For certain problems, and when patients don’t respond to the initial treatments, primary care, urgent care or OrthoConnect providers may refer patients to Riverside Hampton Roads Neurosurgical and Spine Specialists for further care. With locations in Newport News and Williamsburg, the practice has both physiatrists and neurosurgeons to assess and treat spinal problems. Physiatrists, also known as physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, focus on treating patients without complex surgery, often utilizing medications, pain management interventions and physical therapy. Neurosurgeons are trained in surgery of the brain and spine.

Riverside’s Spine Program has been ranked as one of the nation’s Top 100 for spinal surgery due to its clinical excellence in spinal fusion, back and neck surgeries. Whether it is a nerve block, lumbar surgery, scoliosis procedures, spinal trauma surgery or treating metastatic lesions on the spine, Riverside’s comprehensive program provides the interventions, treatments and rehabilitation needed. To learn more about the program and the physicians of Riverside Hampton Roads Neurosurgical and Spine Surgeons, visit the Riverside Spine Program website.

Emergency Care for Back Pain

There are some situations where back pain is from an emergent condition such as an infection, compressed nerve roots or an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
For the following symptoms, patients should call 911 or go to the closest emergency room:

  • Any suspected spinal cord injury
  • Back pain with unexplained weight loss
  • Intense back pain along with any of the following:
  • Difficulty standing or walking
  • Sudden loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Pain that goes from the lower back around to the abdomen
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Sudden numbness in the pelvis, groin, thighs or buttocks
  • Sudden numbness in one or both legs
  • Any symptoms of a heart attack
  • Any symptoms of a stroke
  • High fever (over 101.0)