Back pain is a very common condition, but it’s not an actual disease. Rather, it is a broader description of more specific health issues that affect the back, neck and spine.
The good news is that most back pain issues resolve themselves, given enough time and rest. Over-the-counter pain medications can also help relieve the symptoms of back pain, allowing you to go about your day while you heal.
Prevention is the best medicine, of course. Staying in shape, keeping excess pounds off and lifting heavy items correctly can all reduce the incidences of back pain. Rarely is surgery required for generalized back pain conditions.
However, chronic back pain can indicate that something is wrong with the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and discs that make up the structure of your back. Persistent back pain can indicate that something is wrong with these structures.
Most often, back pain occurs because you have strained the muscles or ligaments, have lifted something improperly or you made a sudden movement that caused something to pull.
In more serious cases of back pain, you may be suffering from a bulging or ruptured disk, have pressure on a main nerve that causes a shooting pain through your lower extremities or have a misalignment in your spine, such as scoliosis. In cases where the pain is chronic, you should see your doctor to find out if the root cause is something that needs additional non-surgical or surgical intervention.
Symptoms of generalized back pain can include aching muscles, a shooting or stabbing pain, pain that radiates down your leg, limited range of motion or an inability to stand up straight.
If the pain last longer than three months it is considered chronic. Back pain that lasts a few days or even a few weeks is considered acute and doesn’t require a visit to the doctor unless the pain is debilitating and over-the-counter medications don’t ease the pain.
When you see your doctor for generalized back pain, you will receive a basic physical examination to test your mobility and ability to sit, stand, walk and lift your legs. These will help your doctor see what triggers the pain as well as rule out specific causes.
If the doctor suspects there is a specific cause, such as a tumor, herniation, fracture or infection, additional tests may be required, including blood and urine tests, x-rays, MRI or CT scans, a bone scan or nerve studies.
In most cases time and rest will eliminate the pain and allow your body to heal properly. Staying in bed for more than a couple days can actually do more harm than good. You want to rest, but not aggravate the situation. If you have pain, pain relievers should help as you try to maintain as normal a routine as possible.
If the pain is persistent, your doctor may recommend you see a physical therapist who can apply different techniques to your back muscles and tissues. These can include muscle relaxation techniques, electrical stimulation, heat, ice and ultrasound. Specific exercises may also help you by strengthening weak muscles and improving your posture.
If other measures don’t relieve the pain, your doctor may recommend cortisone injections, which are delivered into the space around the spinal cord. These can reduce the inflammation of the nerve roots and will last a few months.
Surgery is the final course of treatment and usually a last resort. Depending on the cause of the back pain, your doctor may recommend one of the many surgical options available at the Florida Hospital Celebration Health Spine Center, including minimally invasive procedures that can reduce complications, speed recovery time and leave little to no scarring.