Most people will suffer from some form of back pain during their life, although the majority of cases do not require major intervention. Read on to find out what kinds of back pain are most common and how to treat them.
Causes of Back Pain
Back pain has many causes and can affect different parts of the back as well as other areas of the body, such as the buttocks and legs. The physical discomfort associated with back pain can range from mild to severe.
Back pain may be caused by poor posture, injury due to heavy lifting, overuse or muscle strain, a ruptured disc, or even by an underlying disease.
Common underlying conditions include arthritis and osteoporosis as well as other rheumatological, and other, diseases. With so many potential causes, it is important to locate both the zones of pain as well as determine the most likely cause.
The older a person is, the more likely he or she is to experience back pain. Excess weight and inactivity pose risk factors, as does smoking. To help prevent back pain or injury, it is recommended to exercise regularly, focusing on flexibility and muscle conditioning, maintain a healthy weight, and stop smoking. Pregnant women may experience back pain as their center of gravity shifts during pregnancy. If pain is acute or debilitating, pregnant women should see a physician.
Both over the counter and prescription drugs are used to treat back pain, and certain physical therapies and regular exercise can also help reduce symptoms. Both nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, as well as naproxen sodium (Aleve), can relieve back pain; stronger drugs such as muscle relaxants or opioids may be prescribed for more severe cases. Opioids especially should be used with caution and under the close supervision of a physician, as they can cause addiction.
Cortisone injections may relieve pain related to nerve damage. Surgery is rarely necessary for most cases of back pain but may be necessary in cases involving nerve compression or injury to discs or vertebrae of the spine.
Relief at Home & Work
Rest is commonly helpful in reducing back pain, especially if caused by a muscle strain. Often, topical creams may reduce some back pain if its cause is related to muscle strain or aches. Hot and cold compresses may relieve symptoms related to muscle ache or strain as well. Hot baths with Epsom salt may also provide relief from pain.
Focusing on prevention is an effective strategy. Eating a healthy diet, with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and reducing stress can also reduce the discomfort of back pain. Alternative therapies may help some people suffering from back pain. Common alternative therapies include yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture.
Posture plays an important role in some cases of back pain, especially for those with poor posture. Assess your posture at home and at work. Are you in one position most of the time? If seated, do you have good lower back support? Try adding a cushion or trying a more supportive chair. Try to change position frequently and take breaks to walk around once or twice an hour.
When to Seek Treatment
If back pain follows an injury, seek out medical care immediately. Those suffering from acute pain, or from the pain that does not subside, should also see a physician as soon as possible.
Rheumatologists are often consulted for back pain, as it can stem from conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis. Physicians often use x-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to diagnose the cause or causes of back pain.
Various forms of arthritis may cause back pain. One type of arthritis that causes back pain is inflammatory spondyloarthropathy, also known as spondyloarthritis, which is caused when the immune system attacks the spine and sometimes the joints of the arms and legs. The most common symptoms are lower back pain as well as swelling in the arms and legs.
Men are most likely to be affected, especially younger men in their teens and 20s. The symptoms of inflammatory spondyloarthropathy can be treated with NSAIDs and biologic medications. Physical therapy and certain exercises are also recommended.
Ankylosing spondylitis is another type of arthritis that causes damage to the spine that is visible on an x-ray. It most commonly occurs in the sacroiliac joint, where the spine connects to the pelvis, and causes pain in the lower back, hips, and buttocks. The onset is typically between 20 and 40 years old, and it is more common in men. It is typically treated with NSAIDs and analgesics.
Sciatica is pain caused by excess pressure on the sciatic nerve, usually caused by a herniated disc, bone spur, or spinal stenosis. Pain originating in the lower spine usually radiates down the back of one leg. Inflammation and numbness can also be experienced.
Some cases of sciatica resolve through initial treatments, but severe cases may require surgery. Risk factors include aging, obesity, diabetes, and careers that involve lifting, twisting, or excessive sitting. Medication such as corticosteroids and muscle relaxers can improve symptoms.