What Is Back Pain?
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This pain most commonly shows up as lower back pain, however many people also suffer from upper back pain and middle back pain. If you suffer from pain, know that it isn’t normal. You don’t have to suffer in silence. There are a variety of treatment options you can try to help you find back pain relief. A dedicated back pain doctor can help you review these options to find out what could work best for you.
The back is a complex structure that is comprised of muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and intervertebral discs. Problems in any of the structures that make up the spine can result in pain. The spine is divided into four regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and sacral region.
Back pain can be classified as either acute or chronic in nature, depending on the duration of a patient’s symptoms. Short-lived symptoms, lasting less than three months, are classified as acute pain. Conversely, symptoms lasting longer than three months are classified as chronic back pain. The symptoms of spine pain can range from mild to severe, and can be intermittent or constant. In addition to the physical symptoms of pain, there are also psychological symptoms that are often related to back pain, including depression. The symptoms associated with back pain can be so severe for some people that their quality of life is severely and negatively affected.
Back Pain CausesThe most common causes of upper back pain, middle back pain, and lower back pain are due to strained muscles and ligaments. These can result from:
- Heavy or improper lifting
- Abrupt or awkward movements
- Poor posture
- Sitting at a desk for too long and too often
- Muscle spasms
However, there are numerous other spinal pain causes that result from structural issues in the thoracic and lumbar spine, including:
- Disc herniation: Between each vertebrae in the spine is an intervertebral disc. When the outer layer of the disc weakens, the inner layer can rupture, resulting in inflammation and irritation of surrounding spinal nerves, which can cause pain.
- Disc bulging: Similar to disc herniation, when the inner layer of the disc bulges outward, it can result in increased pressure on surrounding spinal nerves, which can cause pain.
- Sciatica: A herniated or bulging disc may create a sharp, shooting pain that travels from the back, through the buttock and down the back of the leg.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is a common condition that can affect multiple joints of the body, including the joints of the spine. When this happens, the degeneration that occurs can lead to pain.
- Abnormal curvatures of the spine: Scoliosis and kyphosis are two types of abnormal spinal curvatures that can result in pain.
- Osteoporosis: This condition can lead to a weakening of the bones that make up the spine, which increases the risk of compression fractures. When this type of fracture occurs, pain can result.
More serious causes of back pain include: cauda equina syndrome, spinal cancer, spinal infection, other types of infections (e.g. bladder or kidney), spinal fractures, and shingles.
Risk Factors For Back PainA variety of risk factors have been identified that increase an individual’s risk of developing pain, including:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Increasing age
- Mental health issues (e.g. anxiety or depression)
- Strenuous physical job
- Strenuous physical exercise (especially when it is not performed correctly)
- A genetic component, as discussed by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases
How To Relieve Back PainIf you suffer from back pain, you’ll start by getting a diagnosis for your symptoms. Most health care practitioners will assess patients suffering from pain symptoms by carrying out a detailed history and physical examination.
Occasionally, imaging tests including X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computed tomography may be ordered. If infection is suspected, blood tests may be ordered as well. Once the source of pain is identified, treatment can be targeted to address the underlying issue.
From a pharmacological perspective, patients suffering from pain may be prescribed analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
For patients who suffer from pain that is unresponsive to these medications, opioids may be prescribed for short-term use; however, long-term use is not advised as there is the risk of misuse and abuse of opioid medications. Read more about our opioid therapy statement here.
Furthermore, antidepressants, such as amitriptyline, may be prescribed for patients suffering from spinal pain.
Home Remedies For Back PainFor the large majority of cases of spine pain, treatment will focus on home remedies and complementary therapies. These will largely help to reduce tension in the back, while strengthening the muscles surrounding the spine. As the Mayo Clinic reports, most people can find back pain relief after making a few lifestyle changes. Talk to your back pain doctor first before trying any of these home remedies.
To begin with, rest for a few hours after pain hits, but don’t lay still for too long. As Fitness reports, long periods of downtime and inactivity can exacerbate pain symptoms.
From there, look towards some back pain exercises. You’ll want to focus on gentle exercises and listen to your body while doing them. If sudden pain makes you gasp, take a break, consider a modification, or skip the exercise all together. But, seriously, exercise is really that important for reducing pain in the back. Numerous studies have shown just how critical daily and consistent exercise can be for reducing pain. These three back pain stretches can be easily incorporated into your routine to help you reduce pain.
- Doing some simple back stretching exercises
- Changing your bedtime routine to find the best sleeping position for back pain
- Working on your posture
- Fitting these back exercises for strengthening into your routine
- Starting a physical therapy routine for pain
Treatments For Back PainEpidural steroid injections and facet joint injections may also be recommended to patients suffering from pain. Epidural steroid injections entail injecting a corticosteroid and a local anesthetic into the epidural space, which is the space surrounding the spinal cord. Facet joint injections entail injecting a corticosteroid and a local anesthetic into the facet joints of the spine. These injections help to reduce pain as the corticosteroid helps to reduce inflammation in the affected area, while the local anesthetic helps to numb the affected area.
Surgery may be required for patients who suffer from pain that is unresponsive to conservative treatment options. Depending on the source of pain, different spinal surgical procedures may be recommended. Spinal fusion involves joining two vertebrae to each other by utilizing metal plates, screws, or cages. However, there is an increased risk of arthritis development in the adjoining vertebrae after this type of intervention. A discectomy involves removing part of the intervertebral disc that is believed to be causing a patient’s pain.
ConclusionPain felt in the back is a very common condition, experienced by many adults in the U.S. This type of pain can be acute or chronic in nature, and symptoms can vary in severity, ranging from mild to severe. This type of pain can be debilitating and can have a detrimental impact on a person’s personal and professional life.
There are a variety of effective treatment options available to pain sufferers, ranging from conservative treatment methods including analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications to physical therapy, chiropractic care, biofeedback training, and acupuncture.
Additional treatment options include epidural steroid injections and facet joint injections. For patients who have pain that is unresponsive to conservative treatment options, surgery may be recommended.
If you’re suffering from pain, click the button below to speak with a back pain doctor about potential treatment options that may provide effective pain relief for your condition. For even more information about pain, watch the videos below or check out our further resources.
Back Pain Videos
What is back pain?
The science of back pain
Clinical depression linked to back pain
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