Many treatment options are available for these problems ranging from medication, spinal manipulation, massage, braces, heat/cold treatment, ultrasounds, electrical stimulation, and exercise to name a few options. So should one seek medical care and treat these symptoms or simply just wait it out? Although it is true that many of these problems self-resolve on their own within weeks. The down side is that for many these problems become recurrent and sometimes progressive eventually leading to sciatica (pain radiating to the leg) or brachialgia (pain radiating to the arm). The natural resolution of sciatica and brachialgia is often lengthier sometimes lasting several months and a few cases may even require surgeries to resolve.
Acute first time episodes of spinal pain have been shown to be more easily managed and responsive to simple treatments. In my opinion, seeking sound medical care that educates the patient in self-management strategies early in the onset of these painful disorders is well worth it. Research has proven that those who underwent Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) treatment for back and neck pains tend to rely less on the healthcare system for the management of future spinal pain episodes. This can amount to huge savings in today’s healthcare market with rising increases in deductibles, co-payments and co-insurance payments.
MDT is a system of evaluation and treatment for nonspecific spinal disorders that primarily uses the patient’s own movements to identify and treat mechanical pain syndromes. I suspect the reason for reduced healthcare utilization is due to the emphasis on active patient involvement in the treatment process with this method of treatment, and the minimization of passive treatments such as thermal/electrical modalities, massage, and other passive treatments. This method of treatment empowers the patient to control their own symptoms via frequent self-mobilization and greater attention to correction of faulty postures, which often contribute to the development of their condition. The treatment process helps the patient develop lifelong coping strategies for these mechanical spine problems, and often gives them a greater sense of empowerment to control their own symptoms. No other therapeutic specialty for spinal care (Chiropractic, Manipulative Physical Therapy, etc.) has this attribute. In fact many of these other methods of treatment often create dependency, leaving the patient with the idea that only the magic hands of the clinician can take their pain away if it recurs again.
So the next time your “back goes out” or you get a “crick” in your neck, seek treatment from a physical therapist who is trained in MDT and learn how to put your own back “back in” or “crack” your own neck, and more importantly learn what habits you may have developed that are likely predisposing you to these unwanted pains. The experience just might prevent frequent trips to the doctor time and time again for the same problem.
Kjellman, G., & Oberg, B. (2002). A randomized controlled trial comparing general exercise, McKenzie treatment, and a control group in patients with neck pain. J Rehabil Med, 34, 183-190.
Machado, L., Maher, C. G., Herbert, R. D., Clare, H., & McAuley, J. H. (2010). The effectiveness of the McKenzie method in addition to first-line care for acute low back pain:a randomized controlled trial. BMC Medicine, 8(10), 1740-7015.