Back pain is very common among American adults. It can occur anywhere along the bony, highly innervated spinal column, leading to short- or long-term disability. If you want to know more about back pain and how to relieve it, let’s look at its common causes and the treatments your back pain doctor may recommend.
Causes of Back Pain
Adults may develop back pain of varying severity and duration. An acute episode may last just a few days. Chronic back pain, however, lasts for 3 months or more and should be investigated by a spine specialist.
The causes of back pain differ. Some are related to lifestyle habits, such as poor posture, excess body weight, and poor lifting techniques on the job or at home.
Other causes are traumatic injuries–a fall, sports collision, or motor vehicle accident as examples. In fact, whiplash pain in the cervical spine (neck) frequently occurs after a car accident, as a person’s head is quickly propelled backward and then forward during impact.
Finally, back pain happens because of a wide range of degenerative conditions, such as arthritis, osteoporosis (age-related bone thinning), obesity, and more. Degenerative conditions develop over time and may lead to spinal misalignment and issues with the structural integrity of the vertebrae and spinal joints. These structural problems impact blood circulation to the back, and also to the many nerves which radiate from the spinal cord through the spinal column to various areas of the body.
Examples of painful spinal conditions are:
- Sprains, strains, and fractures
- Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the bony spinal canal
- Degenerative disc disease or herniated discs, which involves damage to the natural cushions located between the vertebrae
- Spondylolisthesis, in which vertebrae move forward out of alignment and press on the spinal nerves
Diagnosis of Back Pain
Back pain may resolve with rest, the application of heat or cold, and over-the-counter NSAIDs or acetaminophen. However, people should never resort to extended bed rest, but rather begin light exercise as soon as possible.
For very severe and debilitating back pain–either sudden or chronic–an individual should seek out the expertise of a back pain doctor. Orthopedic specialists who subspecialize in spinal disorders have the diagnostic capabilities to create and execute effective treatment plans.
Evaluation of back pain involves an in-depth discussion of symptoms–when and where they occur and what may worsen or relieve them–a hands-on examination (including reflexes and muscular strength), and imaging, such as X-rays, MRI, or CT scan. Specialists also perform nerve conduction tests and other assessments as needed.
Treatments For Back Pain
When the common sense lifestyle changes mentioned above don’t work or are not applicable because of the nature of your back injury or condition, your back pain doctor may advise one or more of the following interventions.
Performed in-office and at-home, physical therapy (PT) helps people recover their range of motion and flexibility, and to build muscular strength and endurance, which is often lost with back pain. Bracing and use of assistive devices, such as walkers and canes, help some individuals correct posture and balance issues, and therapists have a wide range of pain management modalities at their disposal. These include:
- Massage therapy
- Heat and cold application
- TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation)
- Stretching exercises
Your back pain doctor may prescribe injection therapy– medications placed into the facet joints between vertebrae or at muscular trigger points. These medications may be anesthetics and/or steroids which relieve painful inflammation.
Today’s back pain surgeries are less invasive and more therapeutic than ever before. The incisions are smaller, and the tools are more innovative.
Common operative solutions for back pain include fusion surgery, which stabilizes the vertebrae, and microdiscectomy, which removes part of a herniated disc to relieve pressure on nearby nerves. Laminectomies remove bone spurs, which abrade nerves in a narrowed spinal canal.
Trust the Experts on Back Pain: North Country Orthopaedic Group in Watertown, NY
If you have continuing back pain, please don’t wait. Contact the back pain team at North Country Orthopaedic Group. Our board-certified spine specialist is Dr. Bruce Baird. He helps his patients understand the source of their back pain, and how to treat it effectively.