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What is Back Pain?


Back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed days at work, doctor’s visits and is a leading cause of disability. The pain can range from mild to severe and can be brought on quickly and intensify over time.

If chronic back pain has disrupted your active lifestyle, you’re not alone and Back Pain Centers of America is here to help. Call one of our patient coordinators today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”]! It’s free, easy and could be one of the most important calls you ever make.

Back pain can impact your mobility and quality of life

Back pain refers to pain in any part of the back, though pain in the lower back is most common. The spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae, which are held together by an intricate combination of muscles, tendons and ligaments. Between each vertebra are discs, which act as cushions to absorb the shock of your movements. An issue with any part of the spine can result in back pain.

Back Pain Causes and Risk Factors

Injury to a muscle or ligament is the most common cause of back pain. This type of back pain usually comes on suddenly after heavy or improper lifting, or trauma, such as a fall or accident. The risk of muscle and ligament injury is higher for those that are inactive or in poor physical condition. Getting older also increases the risk of back problems as the natural process of degeneration occurs.

Other common back pain causes and risk factors include:

  • Bulging/ruptured discs – A disc is like a jelly donut with a soft center and slightly tougher exterior. Discs act as cushions between the vertebrae, and repeated wear and tear or injury can damage the outer portion of a disc causing the “jelly” inside to bulge. When this happens, contact with a nerve can lead to spine pain, along with weakness and numbness.
  • Arthritis – Various forms of arthritis can result in back pain, with osteoarthritis (OA) being the most common due to the gradual wearing down of the protective discs. Arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the spinal openings called spinal stenosis, which allows pressure to be placed on the spinal cord and nerves.
  • Osteoporosis – Low bone mass and the breaking down of bone can cause compression fractures in the spine. Compression fractures are one of the most common causes of back pain in those with osteoporosis.
  • Scoliosis – This condition causes a curvature of the spine. If the scoliosis is severe, it can result in back pain.

Along with the presence of the conditions listed, other risk factors for back pain include:

  • Age – Back pain becomes more common as we age, with many experiencing their first bout of lower back pain between the ages of 30 and 40.
  • Being overweight – The extra weight puts added stress on the back.
  • Poor fitness level – Weak back and abdominal muscles are unable to properly support the spine, leading to an increased risk of back injury.
  • Certain jobs – Occupations that require heavy lifting and regular pushing and pulling carry increased risk of back pain. Lower back pain and injury often result from repetitive actions that involve twisting of the spine. Jobs that involve sitting for long periods can also increase your risk of back pain.

Reduce your back pain with these lifestyle changes

Back Pain Symptoms

There are different types of back pain, and your back pain symptoms can vary depending on the cause and the part of the spine affected. Your symptoms can also last just a week or two or become chronic. Signs and symptoms of back pain may include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Stiffness
  • Sharp, stabbing pain
  • Pain that radiates down the leg
  • Decreased flexibility
  • Limited range of motion
  • Numbness or weakness

In rare cases, back pain can be an indicator of a serious medical problem when it occurs after a fall or accident or is accompanied by any of the following:

  • Bladder or bowel control problems
  • Fever
  • Leg numbness or weakness
  • Pain that affects both legs or extends below the knee

Back Pain Treatment Options

Back pain treatment depends on the type of pain you’re having and the cause. Acute back pain, such as pain caused by strain, will usually improve on its own after a couple of weeks. Because bed rest can lead to stiffness, it has been proven that reduced activity or light movement is often preferable to bed rest for back strain.

Check with your doctor for what is best for you. Non-invasive options to treat back pain include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Topical pain relievers – Creams and ointments containing pain relievers and numbing and cooling agents may help with mild back pain. These products are rubbed into the skin at the pain site.
  • Heat and cold – Using hot or cold packs or a combination of the two can provide relief of stiffness and soreness.
  • Adjust Sleep Position – Changing sleep position by shifting to your back or side and placing a pillow in between your knees may help alleviate stiffness. Upgrading to a better, more supportive pillow can also aid in your comfort.

For back pain that doesn’t improve after two weeks of home treatment, your doctor may recommend the following (do not attempt any of these without first consulting your physician):

  • Prescription strength NSAIDs –These may be prescribed if OTC pain relievers don’t relieve your back pain.
  • Muscle relaxants – Your doctor may recommend a muscle relaxant to ease pain and spasms if OTC medications don’t provide enough relief.
  • Narcotics – In some cases, you may be prescribed narcotics, such as codeine, for short periods. These should only be taken under close supervision of a doctor, as they are habit-forming. Back Pain Centers of America is not involved in the prescribing of narcotics.
  • Injections – Pain that doesn’t improve with other back pain treatment or pain that radiates down your leg may be treated with a cortisone injection. These injections contain a combination of an anti-inflammatory and a numbing agent that is injected into the affected part of the spine for pain relief that may last from a few days to a few months.
  • Physical therapy/exercise – A physical therapist can treat your back pain using a combination of treatments, such as muscle-release techniques, electrical stimulation and ultrasound. Working with a physical therapist, you will also be taught exercises to improve your strength and flexibility. Studies have found that receiving physical therapy early after an episode of acute back pain results in a decreased need for medical services.

When all other treatments for back pain have failed to improve symptoms or when the pain is the result of a structural problem with the spine, such as spinal stenosis, or fractured vertebrae, surgery may be the best option.

Don’t delay relief any longer. Our patient coordinators are ready to match you with a spine specialist who can give you the personalized treatment you deserve, which could include laser spine or minimally invasive treatments. Take the first step toward recovering your active lifestyle by calling us today at [sc name=”patient_phone_number_dash”].

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Did you know?

over 87 million people suffer
from back pain

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