Back Pain

Back Pain: What You Need to Know

Back pain is very common.

It is so common that worldwide, it is considered one of the most prevalent causes of disability.

It is also one of the most common reasons people miss work and visit their doctors.

Fortunately, certain measures can be undertaken to prevent back pain.

However, if prevention fails, it is reassuring to know there are proper body mechanics and home treatments that can heal back pain and keep it functional for the long term.

While it can be an option in some cases, surgery is very rarely necessary when treating back pain.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of back pain can include:

  • Stabbing or shooting pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Limited flexibility
  • Limited motion range of the back
  • Pain that radiates down the leg

Generally, with self-care and home treatment, back pain gradually improves in a couple of weeks.

If back pain perseveres for a long period, a visit to a back pain specialist is recommended.

While rare, back pain can be a symptom of a more serious condition.

Seeking immediate medical care is required when the following signs will manifest:

  • Bladder or bowel problems
  • Fever
  • Pain spreads to the leg or extends below the knee
  • Tingling, numbness, and weakness in the legs
  • Unexplained weight loss

A visit to the doctor is also advised for those who experience back pain and have had a history of osteoporosis, steroid use, cancer, and alcohol abuse.

Causes

Back pain can occur suddenly and can last less than 6 weeks (acute).

Acute back pain can be attributed to heavy lifting or falling.

Back pain that perseveres for more than 3 months is considered chronic.

While tests and imaging studies are needed to determine the specific cause of back pain, the condition is often attributed to the following causes:

  • Arthritis – osteoarthritis may affect the lower back. In some instances, arthritis can result to the narrowing of the space found around the spinal cord. The condition is called spinal stenosis.
  • Ligament or muscle strain – sudden and awkward movements as well as repeated heavy lifting can cause strain to the spinal ligaments and the muscles. Constant back strain may also lead to excruciating muscle spasms.
  • Osteoporosis – when the bone becomes brittle and porous, the vertebrae of the spine can have compression fractures.
  • Skeletal irregularities – when the spine curves abnormally, back pain can manifest. Severe cases of scoliosis may also lead to back pain.

Treatment

Many cases of acute back pain often respond well to a few weeks of home treatment. Using ice or heat and over-the-counter pain medications will often suffice.

However, if the condition does not improve with home treatment, stronger medications as well as other therapies might be recommended.

Medications

Depending on the type of back pain, the following medications might be prescribed:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen sodium and ibuprofen might be prescribed to help relieve acute back pain.
  • Topical pain relievers – ointments, salves, or creams are applied on the pain site to ease the aches.
  • Injections – if the pain travels to the leg, cortisone injection might be suggested. It works by minimizing the inflammation around the roots of the nerve. While this treatment option has been known effective, the relief it offers often only lasts a few months.

Exercise and Physical Therapy

A physical therapist makes use of a variety of techniques—ultrasound, electric stimulation, heat, muscle-release, etc.—to ease back pain.

Once improvement is observed, exercises that improve posture, increase flexibility, and strengthen the back muscles will also likely be taught.

Surgery

Surgery is rarely required for back pain.

However, those who experience progressive muscle weakness secondary to nerve compression or those suffering from unrelenting pain that radiates to the leg may benefit from surgery.

In most cases, surgery is only an option for those suffering from pain associated with structural problems that won’t respond to conservative treatment alternatives.

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