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Doctor's Notes

Quick Facts on Back Pain

by Ryan Hogan 04 Apr 2017

Quick Facts on Back Pain

Back pain can manifest as a dull yet persistent ache or it can be a sharp, sudden pain that makes even the smallest of movements a challenge. Back pain can develop immediately after a fall or after having lifted a heavy item, and it can worsen over time.

Who's Affected By Back Pain?

Back pain can affect anyone, but a few factors that will increase your likelihood of this issue are:

  • Aging –
    • The older you get, the more common back pain becomes. This discomfort might rear its head during your thirties or forties.
  • Poor fitness –
    • Back pain is much more prevalent among those with low levels of physical fitness.
  • Excess body fat –
    • Maintaining a high-fat, high-calorie diet can result in weight gain. Excess weight can add stress to the back and create discomfort.
  • Heredity –
    • There are certain causes for back pain that are inherited like ankylosing spondylitis, which is a type of arthritis affecting the spine.
  • Other ailments –
    • Various forms of cancer and arthritis are often the cause of back pain.
  • Your work –
    • If you do a lot of pulling, pushing or lifting while twisting the spine, back pain will likely occur. If you sit at a desk all day while working and don't maintain good posture in the process, you may suffer from back pain.
  • Smoking –
    • Smoking can limit your body's ability to route essential nutrients to the disks in your spine. Back pain can additionally result from smoker's cough. Smoking makes people heal slowly and as such, back pain can be an enduring problem for smokers.

Back pain can have a variety of causes. Pain can be the result of mechanical issues within the back. Among these are:

  • The breakdown of disks
  • Back spasms
  • Muscles that are sore and tense
  • Ruptured disks
  • Injuries from accidents, fractures, sprains, and falling can all lead to back pain.


Back pain can additionally result from certain diseases and conditions like:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Endometriosis
  • Infections
  • Kidney Stones
  • Pregnancy
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Arthritis
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Scoliosis
  • Stress, tumors and infections are some of the other, possible causes of back pain.


Is It Possible to Prevent Back Pain?

Yes! The best forms of back pain prevention include:

  • Routine exercise to bolster and strengthen the back muscles
  • Establish and maintain a balanced and healthy body weight. Keep your bones strong by getting sufficient amounts of both Vitamin D and calcium each day.
  • Limit heavy lifting and keep your spine straight if you do.
  • Hot and Cold Therapy
    • Hot and cold packs can be used to alleviate stiffness, soreness and general pain affecting the back. Cold alleviates inflammation and swelling while numbing deep pain.


When Should I Consult With A Physician About My Back Pain?

It's important to talk with a doctor if you experience:

  • Tingling or numbness
  • Severe, lingering pain that does not subside with sufficient rest
  • Discomfort after an injury or fall
  • Pain and any of the following problems:
    • Difficulty urinating
    • Numbness throughout the legs
    • Weakness
    • Fever
    • Significant weight loss even though you aren't dieting.


What Methods Are Used to Diagnose Back Pain?


Your doctor may perform a comprehensive physical exam and review your medical history in an effort to diagnose your back pain. A battery of tests may be ordered as well that include:

  • MRI scans or magnetic resonance imaging
  • X-rays
  • CT scans or computed tomography scans
  • Blood testing

How Does Acute And Chronic Pain Differ?

Acute pain manifests suddenly and usually lasts six weeks or less. Acute pain is the most common type of back pain. It is often the result of falling, an impact event such as a football tackle, or heavy lifting. Chronic pain is pain that lasts for three months or more and is far less common than acute pain.

Alternative and Complementary Medical Treatments

When people suffer from chronic back pain or when other treatments are incapable of providing relief, some people opt for alternative and complementary treatments. Among the most common of these are:

  • Spinal manipulation. Doctors can use a hands-on approach to massage or adjust the spine and the surrounding tissues.
  • TENS or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation. Mild electrical pulses are transmitted from a small box that is placed over the affected area to stimulate the nerves. Research has shown that TENS treatment is not always an effective strategy for reducing back pain.
  • Acupuncture therapy. This ancient, Chinese practice relies on the placement of tiny needles to restore health and alleviate discomfort. Acupuncture may be a worthwhile addition to a multi-pronged plan for alleviating lower back pain.
  • With acupressure, a therapist can apply pressure to strategic points across the body to reduce pain. No studies have been performed confirming the efficacy of acupressure as a back pain treatment.

Surgical Intervention

Chronic back pain rarely warrants the need for surgery. Surgery is generally used to address chronic back pain after all other options have failed.

Surgery might be necessary if you have:

  • Disc herniation. When one or several of the disks cushioning the spine becomes damaged, the jelly-like fluid in the middle of the disk can leak out, resulting in discomfort.
  • Spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a progressive narrowing of the spine.
  • This condition develops when one or several of the spinal bones start slipping out of place.
  • Fractured vertebrae. Vertebral fractions can be the result of impact events or osteoporosis which causes the bones to crumble.
  • Degenerative disk disease. As people grow older, their disks can be begin to break down, which can result in extreme discomfort.
  • In very rare cases, when back pain might be the result of an infection, tumor, or cauda equina syndrome (a problem affecting the nerve roots), urgent surgery could be necessary for preventing additional issues and for alleviating the associated discomfort.
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