Back pain is a very prevalent complaint. In fact, it would be safe to assume that most people have had back pain at one point in their lives or another.
While often uncomfortable and painful, it is reassuring to know most back pains are usually not serious.
However, if the pain persists for many weeks, visiting a back pain specialist is recommended to ensure the condition is not a symptom of something more serious.
Also, while back pain affects individuals of any age, it is more common among adults between 35 and 55 years of age.
What are some of the likely causes of back pain?
The human back is composed of a complicated structure of ligaments, tendons, disks, muscles, and bones. The segments of the spine are also cushioned by cartilage-like pads. Problems with any of the aforementioned components may cause back pain.
Other possible causes can include:
- Strained muscles and ligaments
- Improper lifting technique
- Lifting something that might be too heavy
- Muscle spasm
- Awkward and abrupt movement
- Ruptured disks – each vertebra in the spine is cushioned by a disk. If a disk ruptures, there will be more pressure placed on the nerve. This pressure will often result to back pain.
- Sciatica – characterized by shooting and sharp pain that travels through the buttocks until the back of the leg, this condition can be attributed to a herniated or bulging disk that presses on a nerve.
- Bulging disks – similar in a way to ruptured disks, this condition can also put unnecessary pressure on a nerve triggering back pain.
- Abnormal spine curvature – if there is unusual curvature of the spine (i.e. scoliosis), the patient is more susceptible to experiencing back pain.
- Osteoporosis – when bones become porous and brittle, compression fractures can develop and may trigger back pain.
- Arthritis – individuals diagnosed with osteoarthritis often experience pain in the hips, knees, hands, and lower back. In some cases, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the space around the spinal cord) can also occur.
Other likely back pain causes include:
- Spine infection
- Pelvic, kidney, or bladder infections
- Spine cancer
- Cauda equina syndrome
Poor posture and everyday activities may also cause back pain.
- Standing for a long time
- Sitting in a hunched position
- Bending down (especially for long periods)
- Awkward bending
What are the treatment options for back pain?
Back pain is classified into two types:
Acute – back pain occurs suddenly and persists for a maximum of three months.
Chronic – pain develops gradually over a longer period. It also lasts for more than three months and may cause long-term problems.
In most cases, back pain often responds to home remedies. Pain relief is also often addressed using over-the-counter painkillers.
However, if the condition does not respond to home treatments, visiting a back pain specialist is recommended so other treatment options can be explored.
Some of the treatment approaches may include:
Physical therapy – the application of ice, heat, muscle-release techniques, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation to the soft tissues and the back muscles may help in alleviating back pain.
Once the pain subsides, strength and flexibility exercises may also be recommended.
Cortisone injections – if the pain already travels down the patient’s legs, cortisone injections may be prescribed. As an anti-inflammatory drug, cortisone is considered effective in reducing inflammation in the nerve roots. Unfortunately, the pain relief effect will likely wear off in less than six weeks.
Surgery – while very rare, surgery might be recommended in cases of nerve compression and persistent back pain.
Surgical procedures for back pain may include:
- Artificial disk
- Partial removal of a vertebra