Back pain is one of the most common medical problems that affect 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. Back pain may range from a dull and constant ache to a sudden and sharp pain. Acute back pain has a sudden onset and may last from a few days to a few weeks while chronic back pain will last for more than three months.
Causes of Back Pain
There are some common conditions that are linked to back pain, which includes muscle or ligament strains, ruptured disks, osteoarthritis, skeletal irregularities, and osteoporosis. Repeated heavy lifting or sudden awkward movements may strain the back muscles and spinal ligaments, which will cause the back pain. The discs that act as the cushions between the vertebrae in your spine may rupture and the soft material inside the disc may bulge out of place, which may be the cause of the back pain. Having arthritis can affect the lower back, and in some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord. If your spine curves in an abnormal way, such as with scoliosis, back pain can occur. Lastly, if your bones become porous and brittle, as is the case with osteoporosis, compression fractures of the spine’s vertebrae can cause the back pain.
Some common symptoms of back pain can include muscle ache, shooting or stabbing pain, inability to stand up straight, pain that radiates down your leg, and limited flexibility or range of motion in your back. Less severe symptoms of back pain may gradually improve with home treatment and self-care, but in some cases, back pain may persist and can signal a serious medical problem. Thus, it is important to seek immediate care and medical attention if your symptoms persist for more than three days, and if your back pain is constant or intense, spreads down one or both legs, causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs, is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, and occurs with swelling or redness on your back.
When you see a doctor for back pain, the doctor will examine your back and assess your ability to sit, stand, walk, or lift your leg as well as test your reflexes with a rubber reflex hammer. If there is reason to suspect that your back pain is due to a specific condition, the doctor may order one or more tests, which can include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT) scans, bone scan, or nerve studies (EMG).
Less severe symptoms of back pain can resolve with home care, short period of rest, and over the counter pain relievers. However, if your pain persists for more than three days, it is important to seek medical attention. If over the counter pain relievers do not improve your back pain, the doctor can prescribe stronger medications such as a muscle relaxant. The doctor may order physical therapy, which may include heat, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation treatments. As the pain improves, a physical therapist can also teach you specific exercises to strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, increase flexibility, and improve posture. In some severe cases of back pain, the doctor may order injections of cortisone or surgery.