SYMPTOMS, TYPES, CAUSES, AND TREATMENT OPTIONS
Almost everyone experiences back pain at some point in his or her life. It’s a leading cause of missed work days and can occur spontaneously or develop over time. Back pain can affect people of any age from children to the elderly. The good news is that with proper diagnosis and treatment, the vast majority of back pain cases can be resolved with no long-lasting effects to the patient.
BACK PAIN SYMPTOMS
The most obvious symptom that something is wrong with your back is pain. Pain is always an indicator that something is not working correctly with your body, and it should never be ignored. Pain is not the only symptom of a back problem, however. Along with pain, you may notice:
- Limited range of motion
- Limited flexibility
- Muscle aches or stiffness
- Shooting, sharp, stabbing, or localized pain
- Pain in the neck, radiating to the leg or arm
- Postural problems
- Spinal aches and stiffness
- Muscle spasms
TYPES OF BACK PAIN
There are three things a physician will want to know in order to diagnose the cause of your back pain: when and how often it appears, where it is located, and how it presents itself.
1. When and how often the pain appears. Back pain is typically classified as Acute or Chronic. Acute pain begins suddenly, often after an injury. Chronic pain develops over time and may never seem to fully recede.
- Acute. This type of pain usually indicates an injury like a sprained ligament, fracture, or disc herniation. Your natural response to this type of injury will be to minimize movement because moving hurts. Rest, ice, and immobilization are also helpful in aiding the back’s healing.
- Chronic. Chronic or prolonged pain is different. This type of pain often results from overuse, repeated straining, or an old injury that never fully healed. The pain may come and go and vary in severity, or only flare-up in certain circumstances.
2. Where the pain is located. Further classification of the pain focuses on the location. We typically refer to back pain in one or two ways: lower back pain or upper back pain.
- Lower Back Pain is the most common type of chronic back pain and is often caused by our sedentary lifestyles and resulting poor posture. The pain presents in the bottom third of the back from the waist to the hips. Common problems that result in low back pain include: disc, joint, nerve, nerve root, tendon, muscle, and soft tissue injuries. Pain and symptoms may be chronic or acute.
- Upper Back Pain is relatively uncommon compared to lower back pain. This is because these bones don’t flex as much as those in the lower back. They work with the ribcage to keep the body upright and stable so they have more support than the lower back. The pain is usually the result of irritated muscles, injured discs, compressed nerves, poor posture, or joint problems. Upper back pain occurs anywhere from the base of the neck to the bottom of the ribcage.
3. How the pain presents itself. In order to narrow down the list of potential causes, your back pain will be classified based on your description and the location of the pain. There are three primary classifications of back pain:
- Axial or Mechanical Pain. This is the most common classification of pain and presents in many different ways. The pain may be sharp or dull, throbbing or steady, it may occur every day or come and go. Muscle strains fall into this category of pain.
- Referred Pain. This dull, achy pain moves around and varies in intensity. It often radiates, moving from the lower back to the groin, pelvis, buttocks or upper thigh. Nerve injuries are a common cause of referred pain.
- Radicular Pain. Deep and radiating, this pain can run along an entire extremity and also cause numbness or weakness. Compression, inflammation and/or injury to the spinal nerve are the cause of the pain. Sciatica is another term for this type of pain.
CAUSES OF BACK PAIN
Back pain has many different causes. The back is a complex structure with bones, ligaments, muscles, and tendons all working together to support your entire body. If one thing goes wrong, it can have repercussions anywhere along the back and spine. Identifying the source of the pain is crucial to alleviating it.
- Spinal Injuries. The spine is particularly prone to injuries of all kind. Repeated stress due to poor posture, torsion, twisting, sudden jolts, and poor posture can all damage the spine and cause back pain. Spinal abnormalities like scoliosis may cause pain, too.
- Osteoporosis. Brittle bones are at greater risk of fracturing than strong bones.
- Nerve Irritation. The spine is full of nerves that go out in every direction to the rest of the body. Any one of these could be irritated, inflamed, or pinched and cause shooting pain to appear in the back or far down the leg, arm, or fingertips.
- Sprained or Strained Muscles. The large muscles of back are workhorses that can easily become sprained or strained at work or play.
- Injuries to the Bones, Ligaments, or Joints. Being in a car accident or other blunt force injury can cause damage to the bones, joints, and ligaments of the back. Whiplash is a common cause of back pain.
- Disc Injuries. Herniated, bulging, or ruptured discs are a major source of pain for many people. They can be tricky to identify since they can feel the same as a bruised muscle or torn ligament.
- Psychological Factors. It’s possible for you to feel back pain but have no obvious symptoms or cause for the pain. Depression and sleeplessness can cause back pain.
- Lifestyle Factors. Obesity, heavy lifting, poor posture and sedentary lifestyles can all cause back pain. Pregnancy can cause low back pain, but it usually resolves itself after the baby is born.
TREATING BACK PAIN
There are many ways of treating back pain depending on the underlying cause of the pain and the patient’s level of pain. Most treatments have the dual goal of reducing pain and restoring function or mobility. There are invasive and non-invasive treatments available ranging from pain medication to exercise to surgery.
Back pain is notoriously personal. What causes one person pain may not affect another person the same. Similarly, back pain can come and go, which may lead to putting off treatment because “it doesn’t happen all the time.” This is unfortunate because even infrequent back pain is a cause for concern and can be treated. Left to its own devices, infrequent pain may become worse over time and the underlying condition more serious and harder to treat.
Treatment options include:
- Rest. Some back pain is just the result of an inflamed muscle and rest is all that is required. Going easy on your back and giving it time to heal itself is an important part of any treatment plan.
- Pain Medication. Over-the-counter and prescription painkillers are often the first line of defense against back pain, but if the back pain does not respond to medication or if you have to use the medication several times a week, you need to explore other treatment options. You may even be prescribed a muscle relaxant for a time to help the muscles relax into a more normal position.
- Injections. Cortisone injections are sometimes used for pain that does not respond to OTC medication. This anti-inflammatory medicine helps decrease inflammation around the nerve roots of the spine. Pain relief is temporary and more injections may be needed in the future.
- Massage. Deep Tissue Massage can help loosen tense muscles and reduce the pain associated with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.
- Exercise. Movement is crucial to healing your back. If the cause is the result of weak muscles, you may be given exercises to strengthen your core, which will relieve pressure on your back. Yoga, walking, or strength exercises can all help back pain.
- Chiropractic. Spinal manipulation is a safe, effective, non-invasive, drug-free way to not just manage the pain, but also eliminate the underlying cause. Manual manipulation of the spine can ease pressure on nerves, discs, and joints, improve posture, and ease pressure on both the lower and upper back.
- Physical Therapy. Physical therapy treatments may involve exercise, rest, ice, heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and muscle-release techniques. You will be taught exercises and self-care techniques that you can take home with you and, if done regularly, may prevent the pain from recurring.
- Surgery. A rare, but possible, treatment is surgery. Surgery often involves correcting anatomical problems or disc decompression.
SAY GOODBYE TO BACK PAIN FOR GOOD
Pinnacle Chiropractic and Spinal Rehab Center helps back pain sufferers regain control over their lives. Our
Doctor of Chiropractic uses a variety of techniques to alleviate back pain. Depending on the condition, patients may be treated with one or more of the following:
- Chiropractic adjustments and spinal manipulation
- Targeted exercises
- Trigger Point Massage and Myofascial Release Technique
- Spinal decompression
- Class 4 laser therapy