Back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek the care of a physician or miss work. There are many causes and symptoms, but most times pain in your back can be treated without surgery.
The spine is made up of 24 bones, called vertebrae, which are stacked on top of one another. These bones connect to protect the spinal cord. The seven small vertebrae that begin at the base of the skull and form the neck comprise the cervical spine.
Your spinal cord and nerves travel through the spinal canal carrying messages between your brain and muscles. The intervertebral discs between your vertebrae are flexible, flat and round discs and are about a half-inch thick. They act as shock absorbers when you walk or run and allow motion between the vertebrae.
Anyone can develop back pain; however, age, lack of exercise, excess weight, disease, improper lifting and smoking can put a person at a greater risk. Pain can come on suddenly and last less than six weeks (acute), which may be caused by a fall, heavy lifting or sudden incorrect movement. Chronic pain is less common and can last more than three months. Conditions commonly linked to pain in the back include:
- Muscle or ligament strain from heavy lifting or a sudden movement
- Bulging or ruptured disc
- Skeletal irregularities
- Muscle achiness in your back
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down your leg
- Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back
- In extreme cases, bowel or bladder problems
You should see a physician if your pain has not improved with rest, usually within two weeks. You should seek immediate care if your pain is accompanied by a fever, bowel problems, pain extending into your legs or is causing you weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both of your legs. Immediate care may also be necessary if you have recently fallen, experienced a blow to your back or other injury.
To determine what is causing your pain, your physician will ask you for a complete medical history, have you describe your symptoms and conduct a physical examination. Imaging tests are usually necessary to confirm the diagnosis.
In most cases, pain will go away on it’s own with rest. Other nonsurgical treatment options include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen
- Narcotics prescribed by your physician
- Cortisone injections
- Physical therapy
- At home exercise and stretching
If your pain is caused by a chronic condition, surgery may be necessary and depends on your diagnosis.
Motion, exercise and stretching is important to strengthen your back and prevent injury. Correct posture when sitting and correct movement when lifting is also important. It is also important to maintain a healthy weight.
Learn more about treatment options for neck and back pain at OrthoIndy.
The Ultimate Guide to Back Pain Relief
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