Your lower back supports the weight of your upper body and is responsible for providing the mobility required for tasks requiring bending and twisting. The muscles in this area work to flex and rotate the hips while you’re walking and provide adequate support for the entire spinal column, while the nerves in the lower back power the muscles in your legs, pelvis, and feet and provide sensation. When any part of this complex system becomes damaged, it can lead to significant lower back pain.
Causes of Acute Back Pain
Acute lower back pain is typically the result of injuries to one or more of the muscles, ligaments, joints, or discs found in this area. The reason these injuries are so painful is that the body’s natural healing response causes inflammation. To make matters worse, it is difficult for the brain to accurately determine whether the area’s muscles, ligaments, or other spinal structures are causing the pain due to the overlap of nerve supply to the area.
This makes accurately diagnosing acute back pain a bit problematic, as a wide variety of different conditions can cause inflammation and painful muscle spasms and thus feel the same. If the underlying cause of your pain is a torn muscle or damaged ligament, your back should heal quickly and your pain should begin to abate. If, however, the pain is due to a degenerated or torn lumbar disc, it may continue for weeks, months, or even years, making it essential to come up with a lower back pain treatment plan that will help you recover and ensure your quality of life while your body heals.
Range of Symptoms
Since there are a wide variety of lower back pain causes, patients also tend to report a diverse array of symptoms. Your pain might be only mildly irritating, or it might be debilitating. It could start suddenly or it could come on slowly and gradually become worse over time.
The most common symptoms of chronic lower back pain are dull, achy pain in the lower back, muscle spasms and tightness in the area, and stinging or burning pain that often includes numbness or tingling and may move from the lower back to the back of the thighs or even the lower legs and feet. This pain often becomes worse with prolonged standing or sitting and may cause mobility issues such as difficulty walking, standing up straight, or moving from a standing position to a sitting down.
Lower back pain is typically described by how the pain comes on and how long it lasts. Acute pain is described as pain that usually comes on suddenly and lasts for only a few days to a few weeks. This acute pain is the body’s natural, normal response to injuries and tissue damage and should gradually subside as your body begins to heal.
Subacute lower back pain is typically mechanical in nature and is most frequently due to muscle strains and joint pain from underlying conditions such as arthritis. It tends to be more severe and more prolonged than acute pain and may limit your ability to perform daily functions. Patients suffering from subacute lower back pain should seek the help of pain management doctors who can help.
Chronic back pain is usually much more severe than acute and subacute pain. Doctors describe any form of chronic pain as pain that lasts for more than three months. Treating this form of pain requires a thorough medical workup to diagnose its source.
Causes of Chronic Back Pain
There are a number of conditions that can lead to chronic back pain, and determining how to relieve lower back pain is largely dependent on accurately diagnosing its underlying cause. Lumbar herniated discs, which cause inflammation and nerve compression, and degenerative disc disease, a chronic degenerative condition that causes the discs in a patient’s spine to wear down and lose hydration, constitute two of the most common spinal problems causing lower back pain. Joint issues such as facet joint dysfunction, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, and osteoarthritis can all cause similar symptoms, though they require different forms of lower back pain treatment.
Spinal deformities, compression fractures, and acute trauma can also lead to chronic pain in this area, as can conditions such as spinal stenosis, autoimmune disease, and spondylolisthesis. Ultimately, the first step toward treating your back pain is to consult with a doctor at a pain management center like ours regarding potential causes. Once the underlying cause has been diagnosed, we can move on to developing a treatment plan.
Treating Lower Back Pain
Acute lower back pain can usually be treated at home through the application of heat and ice therapy, activity modification, and taking short periods of rest. The management of chronic back pain, on the other hand, almost always requires professional medical help. We may suggest physical therapy in the form of targeted strengthening exercises and stretches, the use of a back brace, epidural steroid injections, or the prescription of muscle relaxants or prescription narcotics.
Understanding Upper Back Pain
Pain that occurs in the area surrounding the thoracic spine, which is commonly referred to as the upper back or middle back, is often due to some of the same underlying conditions as lower back pain. Most acute upper back pain is caused by muscle irritations and injuries or joint dysfunction.
If the pain caused by these issues is minor it may be treatable using over-the-counter medications. If, however, it is accompanied by fever or chills, severe headaches, trouble breathing, weakness or numbness in the chest, back, stomach, or legs, balance issues, or inadequate bowel or bladder control, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
Patients who are suffering from chronic upper back pain that lasts for many weeks, or even months, and has begun to interfere with daily tasks should also speak with a pain management specialist regarding upper back pain treatment. This is true regardless of whether or not the pain is accompanied by secondary symptoms, as there are an array of treatment options available that alleviate the pain. If caught early, many cases of upper back pain can be treated by using simple manual therapy and active therapy techniques, making lifestyle changes such as practicing better posture and beginning a new exercise routine, eating a balanced diet, and quitting smoking.
Regardless of where your back pain is located or what has caused it, we can help you come up with a treatment plan that will help you manage your pain and restore your mobility. Get started by contacting us to schedule a consultation today.