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Back Pain

Millions of people suffer from back pain on a daily basis

If you are experiencing back pain, you are not alone. Back pain affects 80 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, and, in fact, low back pain is one of the most prevalent causes of disability in people under the age of 45. There are many causes of back pain, with some more serious than others.

Back pain can range from a minor ache to chronic, debilitating pain that affects every part of your life. Regardless of the level of severity, learning about what causes back pain can help you get the treatment you need. If back pain is affecting your ability to spend time with your family, go to work or get a good night’s sleep it is critical to see your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

In many cases, long-term or more severe back pain is related to a condition affecting the spine. The good news is that these conditions are treatable, making a return to the people and activities that you’ve been missing possibly.

Spine conditions that cause back pain

The spine is such a common source of back pain because it is responsible for supporting the weight of the upper body while being flexible enough for movement. This means years of movement, injuries, weight gain, and degeneration can cause the moving parts — the joints and discs — to wear out. If displaced anatomy puts pressure on spinal nerves, painful symptoms can result.

Some of the conditions that can cause back pain:

  • Herniated discs: A tear in the outer wall of a spinal disc allows the inner disc material to extrude into the spinal canal.
  • Bulging discs: The nucleus pulposus pushes against the disc wall and causes the disc to extrude beyond its natural perimeter into the spinal canal.
  • Spondylolisthesis: A vertebra slips forward and over the vertebra beneath it.
  • Spinal Arthritis: The gradual deterioration of the cartilage surrounding the spinal facet joints
  • Spinal stenosis: A general narrowing of the spinal canal, often by any of the above conditions.

In addition to local pain, nerve compression from one of these conditions can cause radiating symptoms such as pain, tingling, and numbness in the upper or lower extremities.

Causes of back pain

The lower back is the site of the most reported pain. Spinal vertebrae are held together by muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Between the vertebrae are discs, which act as shock absorbers and prevent the vertebrae from hitting one another during walking, running or jumping. They also allow the spine to twist, bend and extend.

Since the lower back is the hinge between the upper and lower body and is the weight-bearing portion of the body, it is especially vulnerable to injury. When symptoms occur, we become acutely aware of just how much we rely on a flexible and strong back. Injury in the lower back can dramatically affect your quality of life and make the simplest activities a chore.

Back pain symptoms:

The location of your symptoms will help your doctor pinpoint the underlying cause of discomfort. You may experience spinal discomfort in any of the following regions:

  • Upper body — pain or tingling in the neck, shoulders, arms, hands, or fingers could indicate cervical spinal nerve compression
  • Middle body — shooting or electric pain around your rib cage, kidneys, abdomen, or chest could mean that you have a compressed nerve in the thoracic spine
  • Lower body — radiating pain or a pins and needles sensation that begins in your lumbar spine and travels through your hips, buttocks, and down one leg could indicate sciatica, which is a term used to describe symptoms that result from compression of the sciatic nerve

Treatment for back pain

Upon diagnosis of a spine condition causing back pain, most doctors will start with a course of conservative treatment options to ease symptoms and improve mobility. Many patients are able to find relief with conservative methods. Many people will find weeks or months of conservative treatments to be sufficient in managing their neck and back pain. These treatments should almost always be attempted before any type of surgery. Your doctor will develop a personalized treatment plan with you, using nonsurgical treatments like:

  • Hot and cold therapy
  • Pain medication
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Low-impact exercises like swimming, yoga, or Pilates
  • Physical therapy
  • Behavior modification
  • Selective nerve root block
  • Minimally invasive back pain treatment options

Some patients may require a surgical alternative if conservative treatments do not offer any relief after several weeks or months. If a degenerative spine condition is causing your severe back pain and will not respond to conservative treatments, it may be beneficial to see if you are a potential candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery. 

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