What are the symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention of back pain?

Physical Doctor consulting with patient about Back problems Physical therapy

Back pain, also known as backache, is pain felt in the back. Back pain is common, with about nine out of ten adults experiencing it at some point in their life, and five out of ten working adults having it every year. Some estimate up to 95% of people will experience back pain at some point in their lifetime. It is the most common cause of chronic pain, and is a major contributor of missed work and disability.

The back is divided into 

Neck pain (cervical), 

Middle back pain (thoracic)

Lower back pain (lumbar)

Or  Coccydynia (tailbone or sacral pain) based on the segment affected.

BACK PAIN SYMPTOMS

Back pain can have many symptoms, including:

  • a dull aching sensation in the lower back
  • a stabbing or shooting pain that can radiate down the leg to the foot
  • an inability to stand up straight without pain
  • a decreased range of motion and diminished ability to flex the back

The symptoms of back pain, if due to strain or misuse, are usually short-lived but can last for days or weeks.

Back pain is chronic when symptoms have been present for longer than three months.

Back pain symptoms that may indicate a serious problem

See your doctor if back pain doesn’t improve within two weeks of developing. There are times when back pain can be a symptom of a serious medical problem.

Symptoms that can indicate a more serious medical problem are:

  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs
  • onset following trauma, such as a fall or a blow to the back
  • intense, constant pain that gets worse at night
  • presence of unexplained weight loss
  • pain associated with a throbbing sensation in the abdomen
  • presence of fever

Let your doctor know if you have any of these symptoms

CAUSES OF LOWER BACK PAIN

The lumbar area is the most common area affected. Lower back pain is not a disorder. It’s a symptom of several different types of medical problems.

It usually results from a problem with one or more parts of the lower back, such as:

  • ligaments
  • muscles
  • nerves
  • the bony structures that make up the spine, called vertebral bodies or vertebrae

It can also be due to a problem with nearby organs, such as the  kidneys.

 Episodes of back pain may be acute, sub-acute, or chronic depending on the duration. The pain may be characterized as a

dull ache,

shooting

or piercing pain

or a burning sensation.

Discomfort can radiate into the arms and hands as well as the legs or feet and may include  numbness or weakness in the legs and arms.

CAUSES OF PAIN IN THE UPPER BACK

Pain in the upper back may be due to :

  • Disorders of the aorta
  • Tumors in the chest
  • Spain inflammation

OTHER CAUSES

Structural problems

A number of structural problems may also result in back pain.

  • Ruptured disks: Each vertebra in the spine is cushioned by disks. If the disk ruptures there will be more pressure on a nerve, resulting in back pain.
  • Bulging disks: In much the same way as ruptured disks, a bulging disk can result in more pressure on a nerve.
  • Sciatica: A sharp and shooting pain travels through the buttock and down the back of the leg, caused by a bulging or herniated desk pressing on a nerve.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause problems with the joints in the hips, lower back, and other places. In some cases, the space around the spinal cord narrows. This is known as spinal stenosis.
  • Abnormal curvature of the spine: If the spine curves in an unusual way, back pain can result. An example is scoliosis, in which the spine curves to the side.
  • Osteoporosis: Bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous, making compression fractures more likely.
  • Kidney problems: Kidney stones or  kidney infection can cause back pain.

Movement and posture

Back pain can also result from some everyday activities or poor postures like

  • twisting
  • coughing or sneezing
  • muscle tension
  • over-stretching
  • bending awkwardly or for long periods
  • pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying something
  • standing or sitting for long periods
  • straining the neck forward, such as when driving or using a computer
  • long driving sessions without a break, even when not hunched
  • sleeping on a mattress that does not support the body and keep the spine straight

BACK PAIN TREATMENT

Many individuals will not need extensive treatment for back pain. Over-the-counter pain medications are often sufficient.

In more severe cases, stronger treatments may be necessary, but they’re typically provided under close supervision from your doctor.

Medication

The majority of back pain episodes are relieved by treatment with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications {NSAIDs} such as:

  •  ibuprofen (Motrin)
  •  naproxen (Aleve)

Pain relievers, or analgesics, such as  acetaminophen (Tylenol), are also an option, though they don’t have the anti-inflammatory properties.

Be careful with medications like ibuprofen if you have kidney problems or stomach ulcers.

Never take more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter medications without talking to a doctor, as even these medications may have severe side effects if taken incorrectly.

Other medication options include:

Topical rubs and ointments

Topical products may be highly effective at reducing back pain. Many of these contain ingredients like ibuprofen and lidocaine, which have been found to work better than a placebo when it comes to pain relief.

Muscle relaxants

Muscle relaxants can also be used for low back pain, especially is muscle spasms are occurring alongside pain. These medicines act on the central nervous system to reduce pain.

Antidepressants

Antidepressants and other medications can sometimes be used  off-label for the treatment of back pain.

If your back pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe  amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, because it focuses on different parts of the pain response. This antidepressant may also work better for nerve-related pain.

Steroid injections

Your doctor might also recommend cortisone steroid injections for severe back pain. However, pain relief from steroid injections usually wears off by around three months.

Surgery

Surgery is a last resort treatment and is rarely needed for back pain. It’s usually reserved for structural abnormalities that haven’t responded to conservative treatment with medicines and therapy.

This includes:

  • severe, unremitting pain
  • nerve compression that causes muscles to become weak

Spinal fusion is a surgery in which painful vertebrae are fused into a single, more solid bone. It helps eliminate painful motion of the spine.

Surgery to partially remove and replace disks and vertebrae may be done to relieve pain caused by degenerative bone diseases.

Alternative medicine

Alternative therapies that may help relieve back pain include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • relaxation techniques

Be sure to talk to your doctor before undergoing any alternative or complementary treatment. If you’re experiencing back pain.

WAYS TO PREVENT BACK PAIN

These tips can help ease back pain when it happens. They can also help you prevent back pain in the first place.

Carry less

Heavy briefcases, laptop bags, suitcases, and purses can add unnecessary stress and strain to your neck and spine.

Try to reduce what you need to carry, and use bags that distribute the weight more evenly, such as a backpack. If you can, use a bag with wheels to keep weight off your back entirely.

Work your core

The muscles in and around your abdomen and back help keep you upright and carry you through your physical activities. Strengthening them can also reduce the chances of pain, strain, or damage to your back.

Plug strength-training workouts with a core focus into your regular fitness routine at least twice a week.

Improve your posture

Poor posture can put unnecessary pressure and strain on your spine. Over time, this can lead to pain and damage.

Regularly remind yourself to roll back rounded shoulders and sit upright in your chair.

Change shoes

High-heeled shoes are likely to cause damage to your back if you wear them frequently. Pick comfortable, low-heeled shoes when you can. One inch is a maximum heel height suggestion.

Stretch often

Doing the same thing every day can leave your muscles fatigued and more apt to strain.  Stretch regularly to help improve circulation in those muscles and lower the risk of back pain and damage.

5 SOURCES

Lilian Mike

Author & Founder Healthfitness102

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