What is Back Pain?
Back pain explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Back pain is characterized as a musculoskeletal ailment that is associated with acute, periodic, or chronic pain in the back and spine. The most commonly reported form of discomfort is low back pain and this condition is responsible for approximately 20 million emergency room visits. However, individuals may also suffer from upper back pain.
Causes of Back Pain
There are several factors that can lead to back pain. Activities such as walking, sitting, and standing are known to increase back pain, and the pain may also radiate to the arms, legs, or the pelvic region.
Conditions that cause back pain include:
- Ligament injuries
- Muscle strain
- Degenerative diseases (e.g. osteoarthritis)
- Spinal injuries
- Disc disease
- Osteoporosis (e.g. fragile or brittle bones)
- Vertebral fractures
- Inflammatory arthritis
- Infection (e.g. urinary tract infection or a fever)
- Cancer or a tumor
There are certain red flags which are a sign that a more serious condition may be responsible for the back pain. These include mobility problems, muscle weakness, urinary retention, vertebrae that are sensitive to touch, and a loss of bladder or bowel control. Immediate medical attention is necessary if these symptoms present themselves.
Additional risk factors that increase the occurrence of back pain include smoking, a lack of exercise, excessive weight gain, improper lifting, consuming excessive amounts of alcohol, depression, an injury due to a vehicle crash or fall, a spinal infection, a history of cancer, poor posture, stress, and depression.
In order to properly diagnose back pain, a physician will perform a physical examination and review the patient’s medical history. Additionally, a neurological examination may be performed to assess the possibility of nerve damage and whether it may be reason for the pain.
Treatments for Back Pain
After back pain has been diagnosed, the recommended treatment method involves pain relievers, physical therapy, and teaching patients techniques that can help them improve mobility and relieve pain, such as how to correct poor posture and proper lifting techniques. The following treatment methods are commonly used for back pain:
- Medication, such as muscle relaxants or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Rehabilitation, such as physical therapy
- Spinal injection therapy
- Spinal manipulation
- Alternative therapy, such as acupuncture or massage therapy
Medication helps alleviate pain by relaxing tense muscles and reducing inflammation, while physical therapy entails showing patients helpful exercises and techniques that strengthen the back. These treatment approaches can reduce the recovery period and hinder future injuries.
Massage therapy aims at improving blood flow as well as relieving tension and pain in muscles and soft tissues. Acupuncture is also an effective alternative that reduces pain, muscle spasms, and stiffness in some patients. Spinal manipulation, also known as high-velocity thrust, is a procedure in which rapid and controlled movements are made on the spinal region with either a special device or the hands. This is different from the sustained stretches and repetitive movements that are utilized during physical therapy. Spinal manipulation is quite effective at relieving acute low back pain.
Another effective treatment option for back pain is direct spinal injections. Steroid epidural injections entail administering long-lasting steroids and, in some cases, local anesthetics to facet joints that connect spinal vertebrae. This approach provides patients with long-term pain relief for lower back pain, degenerative diseases, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.
If a herniated disc or nerve damage is diagnosed through imaging techniques, surgery may be recommended. Surgery may also be necessary if the back pain is causing a decreased range of motion. Surgical procedures such as a discectomy or laminectomy can be performed for conditions that cause back pain (e.g. spinal stenosis). A discectomy involves having herniated disc tissue removed, while a laminectomy entails relieving pressure that is being placed on the spinal cord.
Back pain is a common musculoskeletal problem that is caused by various conditions such as injuries, disc disease, muscle strains, fractures, infection, cancer, or brittle bones (e.g. osteoporosis). Obesity, a lack of exercise, poor posture, improper lifting, and smoking are risk factors that may also cause back pain. Physical activity can further aggravate back pain and cause it to radiate through the extremities.
Common treatment approaches include home remedies that involve taking pain relievers, avoiding excessive lifting, and using hot or cold pads. If a serious condition is causing chronic back pain, more intensive methods such as physical therapy, spinal manipulation, rehabilitation therapy, or surgery may be necessary. Back pain treatment focuses on reducing and preventing chronic pain and in some cases, combining several methods leads to the best outcomes.
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