Back Pain: What Causes It and How to Effectively Treat It?

Back pain is a problem that plagues millions of Americans. It leads to countless expensive trips to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms. Even though back pain is a generic ‘catch all’ term, there are multiple different causes of back pain. These causes may range from work-related injuries to stress and degenerative arthritis and osteoporosis. Depending on the cause of the back pain, there may be different available treatment methods ranging from surgery to injections, on to physical therapy and rehabilitation.

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Back pain refers to a wide variety of conditions. What are some of the most common conditions that cause back pain?


Many different conditions and diseases may cause back pain. Some of these conditions are more serious than others. And some of them may be easier to treat and resolve the pain for than others. For example, degenerative arthritis and osteoporosis may be common causes of back pain for many older Americans. Another common cause of back pain may be a protruding disk that may be the result of an accident.


How long should significant back pain pain to persist for?


Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer to this question. Different types of back pain may last for far longer than other types. For example, if someone has back pain from a workplace injury or a car accident, the pain may subside after several days, as muscle and tissue return back to normal. On the other hand, back pain from osteoporosis may be persistently nagging for extended periods of time. In addition to having different durations, the pain that people experience may vary significantly. For example, back pain from a kidney stone may be a sharp knife-life pain below the bottom ribs, whereas pain associated with degenerative arthritis may be a lower grade throbbing or aching pain.


How is back pain diagnosed?


Because of the wide range of conditions that can cause back pain in patients, it is important to seek medical advice if experiencing back pain. Particularly if the pain has lasted for 12 weeks or longer. The diagnostic process will begin with your medical provider collecting a comprehensive medical history and conducting a detailed physical examination. This will give him/her an idea of where to start from. If the pain has been persistent or particularly debilitating, then the medical provider will likely prescribe a wide range of diagnostic tests. These may include x-rays, blood tests, urinalyses, CTs, MRIs, and bone scans. Again, the prescribed tests may vary significantly from provider to provider and across patients.


Does back pain mean that surgery is needed to be done on the back?


Fortunately, the answer to this question is a resounding no. Yes, a small handful of patients with chronic or debilitating back pain will need spinal fusions or other surgeries. However, the majority of patients have been shown to improve with more conservative treatment significantly. Examples of conservative treatment include: limited bed rest, heat or ice as appropriate, and physical therapy or exercises to strengthen the back.


What are some things that prevent episodes of back pain in the future?


No one wants to deal with the problems associated with back pain. The good news is: we don't have to. There are tangible steps that anyone can take to reduce the likelihood that they will ever experience an episode of back pain. What are these steps? First, a person should work to maintain good posture - this means no slouching. Stack the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders in a line. Don't spend too much time sitting at your desk. Get up and walk around and use the body's muscles. Also, regular exercise with pre- and post-exercise stretching is important. And, finally, back pain often happens because of weak core abdominal muscles. Work to strengthen these muscles as much as you can.

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