Back Pain

1 Back Pain Summary

You may easily recall the last time you had back pain. Back pain is a very common condition among adults. Back pain is so common that almost all adults experience it at some point in their life.

It causes pain to the point of causing disability, and it often occurs without warning. You may find that back pain is very painful that no matter how short its duration. Back pain can be constant dull ache while others have it as sudden, sharp pain.

We will discuss here back pain occurring in the upper aspect of the spine up to the base of the neck. Sometimes, back pain comes with other symptoms such as numbness, tingling or loss of function. Back pain with other symptoms, or if it occurs at times such as sleep time, must be seen by the doctor right away.

The spine is a complex structure comprising of numerous nerves, bones, muscles, connective tissues, and blood vessels. The upper spine also bears the weight and load of the abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms, and anything carried by your hands.

Anything that goes wrong in these areas can cause problems such as back pain. The vertebra, or the individual bones that make up the spine, itself can have problems that often results to back pain.

Injuries at work or in sports, falls, lifting improperly or lifting too heavy loads, or overwork can sometimes cause back pain. Stress, overwork, and lack of rest may also cause back pain.

Another common finding is that back pain often happens to people under severe emotional stress. Individuals who are depressed, grieving, or anxious tend to report pain in their back.

Anyone can have back pain. Those at risk include individuals who do not exercise, those who are overweight or pregnant. Things like sedentary lifestyle and smoking also increase risk.

Older individuals tend to report more back problems as wear and tear begin to affect the spine. Racial makeup is also a factor, as individuals belonging to black ethnicities tend to have more back problems.

Certain health conditions can cause back pain. Problems in the liver, stomach, lungs or heart may sometimes elicit back pain as these organs sit just beside the spine. Sometimes, back pain

One of the problems common in back pain sufferers is that the cause is often undiagnosed. Back pain often strikes in bouts or incidents with no reliable predictability. Most do not treat back pain at all, or resort to pain relievers that do not treat the cause.

Diagnosing back pain requires physical examination as well as lab tests. The doctor may have to make you perform certain maneuvers or exercises to check for loss of function. Sometimes, the doctor may have to order imaging tests to check the spine and your organs for problems.

There are simple treatments for back pain. If tests show there is a cause, that is addressed first. Aside from treatments, lifestyle changes are very important in reducing back pain and reducing the likelihood of recurrence. Surgery in the spine may be considered, but it is not guaranteed to treat back pain.

2 Causes

There are many causes of back pain. Back pain is more common in individuals older than 30 years old, and this is often the result of wear and tear. As we age, the spine becomes less flexible, less able to absorb shocks and loads. Sometimes, the parts of the spine encounter minor injuries or tears that do not heal and become worse over time.

Another common cause of back pain is poor body mechanics. The spine is not meant to be in awkward positions or bear heavy loads for long periods. Poor posture and wrong lifting can put lots of stress on the spine and cause back pain.

Improper lifting, slouching or poor alignment of the back while standing or doing deskwork hurts your back and increase the risk of back pain. This is a reason why back pain is very common among working adults.

Significant numbers of back pain cases are caused by injuries. The spine supports the upper body, so it is somewhat prone to injuries. You may end up with chronic back pain as consequence of car accidents, falls, physical trauma, and other injuries.

Spine diseases:

Diseases of the spine may cause back pain. Here are those conditions:

  • Scoliosis, or the abnormal curvature of the spine
  • Spinal stenosis, or the narrowing of spaces in the spine housing the nerves and blood vessels
  • Arthritis of the spine
  • Spondylolisthesis, a condition where one bone in the spine slides out of alignment resulting in back pain and loss of function
  • Slipped or herniated disc, a condition where the damaged disc collapses that compresses nerves
  • Ankylosing spondylitis, or the arthritis of the spine
  • Infections in the spine
  • Neck injuries or fractures, such as whiplash
  • Spine fractures
  • Sciatica, or the compression of the nerves in the lower aspect of the spine
  • Osteoporosis, or the abnormal brittleness of the bone

Health problems: 

Certain medical conditions can feature back pain as a symptom. The spine sits just beside the major organs of the body so any problems in these organs may cause back pain. Here are those conditions:

Lifestyle:

Certain lifestyle factors practices can make you more prone to back pain. Lack of exercise can make the muscles of the spine weak and result to back pain. Being overweight or obese can put too much weight on the spine and cause problems. Tobacco users are also at risk for back pain, and other health problems.

Many patients with depression, anxiety disorders, or under immense emotional stress may complain of back pain. The area of the back is highly in interconnected to the body and the brain. Note that the spine houses the spinal cord, which is directly connected to the brain.

3 Diagnosis and Treatment

Many people with back pain do not receive enough medical attention for their condition. If you have back pain along with numbness, tingling, loss of sensation or function, or if it occurs at certain times of the day like at sleep time, you should be seen by the doctor.

The doctor will first check your medical history and description of symptoms. He or she will examine your back and checks your ability to do simple things like sit, stand up, walk, and lift the legs. You have to tell the doctor all your symptoms and the times back pain occurs.

Depending on the findings, your doctor may order x-rays, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or CT (computerized tomography) scans to check the alignment of bones in the spine or reveal herniated disks, problems in the bones, muscles, tissues, tendons, nerves, ligaments or blood vessels.

The doctor may check for any nerve problems using electromyography, which measures electrical impulses produced by the nerves. Blood tests and bone scans can reveal infection, tumors or tiny fractures in the bones.

Most cases of back pain get better in few weeks with home treatments. Contrary to popular belief, bed rest tends to worsen back pain rather than relieve it. You should continue the activities you’ve been doing before, as physical activities exercise the muscles supporting the back. Only stop exercises that cause back pain.

Pain relievers are useful in treating discomfort caused by back pain. Your doctor can recommend over-the-counter Acetaminophen, Ibuprofen, or Naproxen sodium. If these drugs did not work, your doctor might have to prescribe stronger prescription NSAIDS.

Your doctor may also prescribe muscle relaxants, which relieves muscle spasms that might elicit back pain. In the case of severe back pain, you may be given narcotic painkillers, antidepressants, or inject a steroid in your spinal column to relieve inflammation. Make sure to follow your doctor’s orders before taking any medicine for back pain.

Surgery for back pain is considered if pain is not relieved by medications, or if there is nerve compression or muscle weakness. Surgery has risks, and there is no guarantee that it may relieve back pain completely. In some cases, you have to undergo several surgeries to correct back pain. Note that, after having back surgery, you are less able to do things such as bending backward.

Surgery for back pain includes the following:

  • Spinal fusion, or joining some spine bones together to address slippage.
  • Laminectomy, which removes culprit bone spurs or ligaments in the spine that compress on the nerves.
  • Aminotomy involves widening the holes or spaces in the spine where nerves or blood vessels exit to relieve compression.
  • Diskectomy removes the slipped disks in the spine that cause back pain.
  • Disk replacement involves replacing slipped or damaged disks with artificial ones, although there is a chance that the artificial disk may slip.
  • Interlaminar implant procedure implants a U-shaped device between two vertebrae, so it remains open and does not put pressure on the nerves.
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