- Del Meyer, MD - https://delmeyer.net -

Back Pain

Back pain is a common complaint. Most people in the United States will experience low back pain at least once during their lives. Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work.

On the bright side, you can take measures to prevent or lessen most back pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple home treatment and proper body mechanics will often heal your back within a few weeks and keep it functional for the long haul. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain.

Symptoms

Symptoms of back pain may include:

·     Muscle ache

·     Shooting or stabbing pain

·     Pain that radiates down your leg

·     Limited flexibility or range of motion of your back

·     Inability to stand straight

Back pain that lasts from a few days to a few weeks is considered acute.
Pain that lasts for three months or longer is considered chronic.

When to see a doctor

Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care.
Although the pain may take several weeks to disappear completely, you should notice some improvement within the first 72 hours of self-care. If not, see your doctor.

In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Contact a doctor if your back pain:

·     Is constant or intense, especially at night or when you lie down

·     Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below your knee

·     Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs

·     Causes new bowel or bladder problems

·     Is associated with pain or throbbing (pulsation) in your abdomen, or fever

·     Follows a fall, blow to your back or other injury

·     Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

Also, see your doctor if you start having back pain for the first time after age 50, or if you have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or drug or alcohol abuse

Causes

Your back is an intricate structure composed of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and disks.
Disks are the cartilage-like pads that act as cushions between the segments of your spine.
Back pain can arise from problems with any of these component parts.
In some people, no specific cause for their back pain can be found.

Strains

Back pain most often occurs:

·     From strained muscles and ligaments

·     From improper or heavy lifting

·     After a sudden awkward movement

Sometimes a muscle spasm can cause or be associated with back pain.

Structural problems

In some cases, back pain may be caused by structural problems, such as:

·  Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. Sometimes, the soft material inside a disk may bulge out of place or rupture and press on a nerve.
But even so, many people who have bulging or herniated disks experience no pain from the condition.

·  Sciatica. If a bulging or herniated disk presses on the main nerve that travels down your leg, it can cause sciatica — sharp, shooting pain through the buttock and back of the leg. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in your body. It runs from your spinal cord to your buttock and hip area and down the back of each leg. Sciatica is a symptom, not a disorder. The radiating pain of sciatica signals another problem involving the nerve, such as a herniated disk. Depending on the cause, the pain of acute sciatica — which may be quite uncomfortable — usually goes away on its own within a couple of months.

·  Arthritis. The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are the hips, hands, knees and lower back. In some cases arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.

·  Skeletal irregularities. Back pain can occur if your spine curves in an abnormal way.
If the natural curves in your spine become exaggerated, your upper back may look abnormally rounded or your lower back may arch excessively.
Scoliosis, a condition in which your spine curves to the side, also may lead to back pain.

·  Osteoporosis. Compression fractures of your spine’s vertebrae can occur if your bones become porous and brittle.

·  Rare but serious conditions. In rare cases, back pain may be related to:

·  Cauda equina syndrome. This is a serious neurological problem affecting a bundle of nerve roots that serve your lower back and legs. It can cause weakness in the legs, numbness in the “saddle” or groin area, and loss of bowel or bladder control.

·  Cancer in the spine. A tumor on the spine can press on a nerve, causing back pain.

·  Infection of the spine. If a fever and a tender, warm area accompany back pain, the cause could be an infection.

Risk factors

Factors that increase your risk of developing low back pain include:

·     Smoking – general effects of early aging of muscles & joints

·     Obesity – mechanical stress on all joints

·     Older age

·     Being female – Pregnancies, high heels,

·     Physically strenuous work

·     Sedentary work – which may cause stiffness and pain through lack of motion

·     Stressful job

·     Anxiety

·     Depression