Back Pain

Back Pain

Causes

Back pain can be a dull, aching throb, a sharp stinging sensation or anything in between.  Back pain can be caused by many different things including:

  • Trauma or injury, for example a car accident
  • Repeated movements that cause wear over time such as slouching over a desk looking at a computer or repetitive lifting with incorrect body mechanics
  • Bulging or ruptured discs
  • Arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Fractures
  • Sprains or strains

Symptoms

Depending on the root cause of your back pain, the symptoms can vary widely.  Trauma or injury to the spine can be wide ranging from a mild sprain to permanent paralysis.  It is important to pay close attention to your symptoms so that you can accurately describe them.  A bulging disc will frequently cause pain, tingling sensations, and weakness in the lower extremities.  Patients suffering from degenerative disc disease will tend to have episodic pain with increased flare ups with certain movements or activity.  Arthritis suffers may have symptoms of discomfort in the hips and pain that runs down the leg.  There may also be pain and stiffness in the morning that decrease with activity and then returns towards the end of day.  Spinal fractures may cause sudden pain that gets worse with standing or walking.  Fractures may also limit the suffers spinal mobility and cause visible deformities.  It is important that you communicate your symptoms in detail to your medical team so that they can better understand your pain and establish an accurate diagnosis.

Diagnosis

A correct diagnosis is the first step to eliminating spinal pain.  There are many different steps and tools a medical professional may use in determining an accurate diagnosis.

Visual and physical tests

Your doctor may perform a visual inspection of your spine and gently test your range of motion.  He or she may also gently push on your spine in segments to pinpoint the areas that are experiencing pain.

Labwork

Blood and urine tests can help your doctor determine if there are any other underlying medical issues causing your back pain such as an undiagnosed infection.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

An MRI also produces images of your spine but uses a magnetic field, radio waves and a computer to produce a picture that includes bones, soft tissue and internal organs.  An MRI allows your physician to see the internal structure of your spine including soft tissue and does so without the use of radiation.

X-rays

An X-ray produces an image of your spine that your physician can examine.  An X-ray sends out small amounts of radiation that can’t pass through dense materials such as bones and metal.  Because the radiation can’t pass through these materials, they appear white on the X-ray.  An X-ray is helpful in identifying issues with spinal bones and connective tissue.

EMG (Electromyogram)

An electromyogram is another tool a doctor can use to help find nerve and/or muscle damage.  An EMG measures how well your muscles respond to nerve signals.  This test can help detect a possible neuromuscular disorder.

Thorough Review of Patient History

Your physician may be greatly assisted by going over your history.  This will include your medical records but should also include any previous incidents of back pain or trauma.  You should disclose any previous injuries or accidents as well as information about your current lifestyle.  Your occupation, physical demands and regular activities may all play a part in contributing to your back pain.  

Treatment

The best course of treatment for back pain will depend in large part on your diagnosis.  The following are the most common courses of treatment to help alleviate your pain.

  • Medication including over the counter, prescription medications, and muscle relaxers
  • Exercise
  • Surgery
  • Physical therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Heat and/or cold
  • Steroid injections

Any of these treatments may be combined with one another to achieve the maximum relief possible.  Your medical team will work with you and your diagnosis to determine which is most appropriate for your specific situation.

Prevention

Preventing back pain is worth the effort.  Back problems can be debilitating so the best strategy is to avoid them altogether.  The best way to do this is to be proactive about your spinal health.  Practicing proper body mechanics at all times is a powerful tool in protecting your back. Your posture, lifting techniques and body movement directly impact your spine.  

Overall physical health also plays a role in the health of your spine.  If you have weak abdominal muscles you may overstrain your back to compensate.  If you are overweight you may put undue stress on your spine and other body parts.  Maintaining your overall nutritional and physical health can help you protect your back and stay pain free.