If you have lower back pain, you should have the best treatment for the longest-lasting results. Treatment options are not all equal. Some may not work as well, and the best relief for your back pain will depend on the cause. This article will help you to find out how to stop your back from aching and interrupting your life, learn more about possible causes and ways to treat this ailment.
Common Causes of Low Back Pain
Because the back consists of muscles, nerves, cartilage and bones, you have several body parts that could experience pain. Even problems in nearby organs can produce aching that feels like it starts in the spine.
With the central location of your lower back, any pain you feel will radiate down to your legs, making walking and sitting painful. Severe or prolonged pain requires medical attention. The doctor will use several diagnostic tools to find the cause and identify the best treatment for your back pain.
1. Muscle Strain
Muscle strains occur from overstretching the muscles of the back, causing microscopic tears. The pain may be acute — lasting up to a few weeks — or chronic — present for more than three months. This common cause of back pain typically starts from a specific injury episode.
2. Nerve Problems
When a disc presses on a nerve, you can feel pain, numbness and tingling. In some cases, a herniated or ruptured disc can compress a nerve, resulting in sciatica. This condition may start out with long-term aching low back pain. A sudden popping sound may trigger the shooting pains down the leg and tingling associated with this condition.
Traumatic injuries can cause extensive damage. The complexity of an injury to the lower back can lead to torn ligaments, strained muscles, slipped discs or compressed nerves. To avoid severe complications, you need to see a doctor after any serious injury that affects your back, including car accidents, falls from heights, slipping on sidewalks or playing sports.
4. Bone Problems
Problems with the shape of the spine could also contribute to pain in the lower back. For example, scoliosis is a malformation of the spine, causing it to curve to the side. You could have this condition but not experience pain until middle age. Another curvature of the spine occurs when the lower back arches unnaturally in lordosis.
5. Less Common Causes of Back Pain
Not all causes of back pain are common or the result of injuries. Because you don’t know the cause of your back pain, you should see a doctor who can rule out some of the more serious, rarer causes of back pain. These include aneurysms, kidney stones, cauda equina syndrome, tumors or infections.
Other conditions such as osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, rheumatoid arthritis and spondylopathy cause pain in the back and elsewhere in the body, so you will have symptoms other than back pain.
People at Risk for Pain in the Lower Back
Some people will have a higher likelihood of developing pain in the lower back than others. If you regularly do a lot of lifting or sports, you put yourself at greater risk of injury. You also have a greater chance of experience pain in the low back if you:
- Are pregnant
- Are overweight
- Have kidney infections
- Have osteoporosis
- Are older
Even if you don’t fall into any of these groups, you can still have pain that requires care.
How Doctors Diagnose Back Pain
To diagnose back pain, doctors need to find the cause. Physical exams, patient histories, CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, bone scans, blood tests and nerve tests are among the tools physicians use to determine the type of back pain and its cause. Only by knowing why your back hurts can a doctor plan on the best treatment option for your lower back pain.
Treatment Options for Lower Back Pain Relief
Minor injuries and pain may only require rest, heat, massage, over-the-counter medications and gentle exercises to recover. If the pain persists despite these therapies, a doctor may prescribe stronger medications for relief or other treatment options.
1. Prescription Medications
The first line of treatment for minor issues is over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen because these options are safer and cheaper than prescriptions. For patients who try these and don’t get relief, stronger medications are available.
Prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) include ketorolac, sulindac and naproxen. Muscle relaxants for strains include metaxalone, methocarbamol, carisoprodol and cyclobenzaprine. For pain relief, you may have a prescription of tramadol. Opioid medications are a last resort to pain that resists other forms of treatment. Because opioids are addictive, doctors do not recommend opioids for long-term use.
2. Injection Treatments
Injections deliver relief directly to the site of pain. These options include epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks and nerve ablations. When you get an injection, the doctor must know the exact location of the pain or use the treatment to definitively diagnose the source. While these bring relief for a short while, they do not offer a long-term solution to chronic back pain.
Surgical options correct the physical problems causing chronic severe back pain. Doctors will often choose surgery for patients whose back pain falls into one of several categories:
- Long-term pain
- Moderate or severe pain
- Pain that originates from the joints
Signs of severe conditions that require back surgery include problems with bowel or bladder control, difficulty moderating gait while walking, limb weakness, reflex issues and balance problems.
Surgeons may perform multiple procedures to solve your back pain, depending on the cause. Talk to your surgeon about the type of operation you need, how it will affect your condition and whether you may need additional procedures to get the best results. Surgeons frequently perform these operations:
- Plasma disc decompression: Lasers shrink discs that compress nerves to ease pain
- Spinal fusion: Fuses the vertebrae of those with degenerative disc disease
- Artificial disc replacement: Replaces damaged discs with artificial ones
- Spinal decompression: Removes bones pressing on the spinal canal
- Foraminotomy: Widens holes where nerves leave the spinal canal to relieve nerve pressure
- Vertebroplasty: Repairs compression fractures
Find the Help You Need for Your Back Pain
If you need help treating your back pain from a team of experts who don’t make you deal with insurance red tape, see us at Alliance Orthopedics. We have X-ray machines on-site and doctors who specialize in helping our patients get pain relief. Book an appointment and discover how we can help you to get better faster.