Healthy Living

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Back Pain?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Back Pain?

Key Takeaways

  • Most cases are said to occur in adults of age 35 to 55 years.
  • Symptom is what the patient reports to be feeling and a sign is what another person or doctor sees in a patient.
  • One of the main causes of back pain is low back strain and you should consult a osteopath, chiropractor or physical therapist for proper diagnosis of your back pain.

Back pain is a common problem and research has shown that at least 80% of all adults in America experience back pain on a daily basis. Though it can cause great discomfort and pain, most cases are usually not serious and can easily be fixed. According to experts, back pain occurs when the muscles, bones and ligaments of the back don’t work properly.

Risk factors for back pain

Anybody is at risk of experiencing back pains. However, there are factors that may increase your chances of developing back problems. These risk factors include:

  • Pregnancy - women who are pregnant have higher risk of experiencing back pains.
  • A stressful job - a physically or mentally straining job increases your chances of experiencing back pains.
  • Age - older adults have a higher chance of experiencing back pains compared to youth and children.
  • Depression
  • Gender - back pain cases are more common among women than men.
  • Obesity
  • An inactive lifestyle
  • Smocking
  • Anxiety

Signs and symptoms associated with back pain

Here are the signs and symptoms that usually accompany back pain:

  • Pain - This is the first and the major symptom of back pain. You may experience pain anywhere in the back. The pain can sometimes travel down to the buttocks. This pain clears on its own within a short time in most cases. However, the following symptoms may follow in serious cases which should be given medical attention.
  • High fevers
  • Weight loss
  • Swelling on the back
  • Endless back pains that don’t seem to go away
  • Pain down to the legs and knees
  • Recent trauma, injury or blow to the back
  • Frequent and unintentional visit to the toilet
  • Numbness around the genitals and the buttocks
  • Experiencing difficulties when urinating

If you fall under any of the groups of people mentioned below, you should probably seek medical attention if you experience back pain.

  • Drug abusers - if you have been misusing any drug, back pain can turn out to be a sign of something more serious.
  • People aged below 20 years or more than 55 years
  • Cancer patients
  • If you have been using steroids for a while
  • If your immune system has been lower than normal

Some Causes of Back Pain

The back comprises of compound structures of ligaments, muscles, tendons, bones and disks. If any of these constituents develops a problem, back pain may occur. However, the cause of the back pain is never found in some cases.

Here are the common causes:

  • Strain - Strained muscles or ligaments are among the most obvious causes of back pain. These strains may be a result of lifting objects that are too heavy or an abrupt and awkward movement. Sometimes, a strain can also be caused when an object is lifted improperly.
  • Structural problems
    • Bulging disks - A bulging disk puts pressure on a nerve causing back pain as a result.
    • Ruptured disks - Just like a bulging disk, a ruptured disk adds pressure to the nerve and this causes back pain.
    • Arthritis- Arthritis causes problems in the joints at the lower back, hips, hands and knees. Spinal stenosis, a condition in which the area surrounding the spinal cord constricts, can develop in some cases.
    • Sciatica - This complaint is caused when a herniated or bulging disk presses on a nerve called the sciatic nerve. It is a sharp pain that extends from the lower back or hips and buttocks right down to the back of the legs.
    • Abnormal curving of the spine - Back pain can be experienced in cases where the spine curves in an abnormal way. E.g. when the spine bends sideways (scoliosis).
    • Osteoporosis -Vertebrae of the spine or any other bone become fragile making fractures more likely.
  • Cauda equina syndrome - The cauda equina are a bunch of nerve roots that are found at the lower side of the spine. Patients with this syndrome experience a faint pain in the upper buttocks and the lower back. They can also experience lack of feeling (analgesia) in the thigh, buttocks and genitals and the functionality of the bladder and bowel may also be affected.
  • Spinal infections - The spine may be infected by bacteria or virus and this may cause fever, mild back pain among other symptoms.
  • Spinal cancer - This occurs when a tumor develops on the spine exerting pressure on a nerve and causing back pain.
  • Incorrect sleeping postures - Some sleeping positions may cause back pains due to pressure to the spine.
  • Bad Mattress - Some mattresses do not support certain parts of the body leading to a bent spine that may cause back pain.
  • Bad posture or daily activities - E.g. pulling or pushing heavy things, bending awkwardly or for long periods and carrying or lifting something heavy. Driving or sitting in a hunched position for longer periods without a break can also cause back pains.

Diagnosing back pain

Back pain can easily be diagnosed by any qualified medical practitioner after interviewing and examining of the patient. Image scanning is often not necessary in most cases. More tests are always recommended if the medical expert suspects the pain to be caused by a more serious condition, if the pain lasts for too long or if a serious injury is suspected.

In the case of nerve, disc, tendon and other related problems, CT or MRI scanning or X- rays may be necessary. These will enable the doctor to get a clear view of the tissues in the spine.

  • X-rays – They are ideal for detecting problems related to the bones. They are used to give a clear view of the alignment of the bones to enable the doctor to detect any broken bones or arthritis.
  • CT or MRI scans - enable the doctor to check the tendons, ligaments, nerves, muscles and tissues for any related problems.
  • EMG or Electromyography - These test helps confirm compression of the nerve that is often caused by bulging disks or when the spinal canal narrows (spinal stenosis). It involves measuring the electrical impulses produced by nerves due to muscles.
  • Bone scan - Can be used to detect fractures and bone tumors. The patient is given a tracer( radioactive substance) injection into a vein which the doctor uses to detect bone problems after it collects in the bones.

Medical experts who specialize in back pain diagnosis

  • Osteopath - Diagnoses back pains by visually inspecting and touching the back. Osteopathy involves rhythmic and slow mobilization, indirect techniques and manipulations on muscles and joints.
  • Chiropractor - Chiropractice is a direct approach that strongly focuses on adjusting the spine. It involves visual and palpation inspection of the back and other tests like blood and urine test and imaging scans may be required.
  • Physical therapist - A physical therapist is always involved when the problem is related to the joints and soft tissues found in the body.

Cases of back pain are becoming common in recent times. This is probably due to the changing lifestyles and working habits that put a strain on the back. So we should always be on the lookout for any signs and symptoms of back pain and know when it is time to seek medical advice.