You don’t have to live with pain in the morning. Here’s what it might be and what you can do about it

Photo by Paul Bradbury/OJO Images/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

FEATURE — Do you wake up feeling sore and stiff in the morning? Feel like you have to roll out of bed like a log and slowly inch yourself up? Does it take a good 20 minutes or more before you feel like you can finally move like a normal human being?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions – including if long car rides or sitting for long periods of time become almost unbearable – you are likely suffering from arthritis in your low back, and the pain is often at its worst in the morning.

Once you get moving, you may find that the pain begins to subside, but it often remains in the low back and may occasionally radiate into the buttocks. Infrequently, it will radiate further down the leg. You may experience tightness in your low back. If your mother were around, she might tell you to stand up straight, but you are unable to due to the pain.

Long car rides become miserable, and even the best talk at church does not make the pew any more comfortable for your back.

What can a medical professional tell me?

If these symptoms are familiar, your doctor may order an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to evaluate your low back pain. You may hear words like “facet arthropathy,” “lumbar spondylosis” and “facet hypertrophy.” These terms all essentially refer to small joints in our spine called facet joints or zygopophyseal joints (if you are looking for a new word of the day).

These joints prevent excessive twisting and bending of the spine. The joints are larger as you move down the spine and allow less movement to improve stabilization. There is a small fluid-filled sac that surrounds each joint allowing the joints to glide on each other during our daily movements.

When these sacs become irritated, the small nerve fibers within send our brain a signal of pain. Our back muscles then try to protect these joints and tense up and go into spasm. This may happen only once or twice a year. Some experience this type of pain daily.

What steps can I take?

Medications can be prescribed to alleviate the muscle spasms and reduce the pain. Proper posture, as our mother always taught us, will help reduce recurrence.

Commonly, the aid of a local physical therapist is best to help demonstrate proper exercises to strengthen our core muscle groups and improve our posture. Interventional spine specialists or pain management doctors can inject steroid into these joints. If the steroid injections work well but only last a short while, lumbar medial branch radiofrequency ablation can be performed.

To make this determination, numbing medication (lidocaine) is placed into the joints, and a pain diary is kept to rate your pain relief over the next few hours. If you have significant reduction of your pain for the first two hours following the procedure, you are a great candidate for radiofrequency ablation.

Radiofrequency ablation, or essentially burning of the nerve, can provide pain relief for 1-2 years before the nerve regenerates. This procedure can be repeated as necessary every year.

Written by MELISSA HINTON, Desert Pain Specialists.

• S P O N S O R E D   C O N T E N T  •

About Desert Pain Specialists

Desert Pain Specialists is Southern Utah’s premier interventional pain management team. The doctors and the entire staff at Desert Pain Specialists are dedicated to helping patients find relief from their pain.

Desert Pain Specialists is located in the new Riverfront Medical Center, 617 E. Riverside Drive, Suite 301 in St. George. The team has additional offices at 1760 N. Main St. in Cedar City and 340 Falcon Ridge Parkway, Suite 600, in Mesquite, Nevada.

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