Saturday, September 13, 2008
Back pain is one of the most common complaints among Americans. Back pain can be linked to many of the problems that are plaguing our society, such as obesity and not getting enough exercise. For others the cause of back pain may be more complicated and could be linked to a specific injury or other condition which has affected the muscles, tendons, or other structures in the back.
The back is made of many different components, each of which can become injured and create significant pain that may be localized to a specific portion of the back, or radiate elsewhere in the body. The bones that make up the spine are called vertebrae. These bones are responsible for protecting the spinal cord and the nerves that run throughout the body from the back. These vertebrae are separated by cartilage discs which aid in the movement of the spine and also act as shock absorbers. The spinal column is composed of four different sections; the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (directly behind the chest), lumbar spine (lower back), and the sacral spine (portion of spine that is connected to the pelvis). Muscles, ligaments, and tendons also connect to these structures and aid in the movement and support of the back.
There are two main causes of back pain. Neuropathic back pain refers to the pain that is associated with a damaged nerve. This types of pain produces great discomfort and can spread to other parts of the body too, such as when a nerve is pinched from a herniated disc. The other type of back pain is nociceptive pain which is the result of some other type of trauma to the back or disease that is not caused by damage to nerve tissue. A back sprain is one example of this type of pain. It is also possible to experience both neuropathic and nociceptive back pain.
Back pain itself can be described in different ways which can be helpful in determining its cause. Chronic pain is a constant or aching pain that can be localized in the back, but also radiate elsewhere, such as through the legs. With chronic pain, your daily lifestyle can become affected. Work, exercise, and even sitting or standing for long periods of time can become painful and difficult to endure. Chronic back pain can be caused from a wide array of conditions.
Acute back pain is generally not as serious as chronic pain. The pain is sharp, but is localized to a specific area such as the right side, lower back, etc. This type of pain is most commonly attributed to an injury involving a strained muscle or similar mild trauma to the back. Acute back pain is not usually constant, but rather intermittent. In many cases the cause may not be known, but generally conservative, short-term treatment methods are required to significantly reduce pain, which may take several weeks. More severe types of acute pain can cause serious pain through the back as well as through the legs such as with sciatica.
There are many different ways to determine causes of back pain. X-rays are one way that physicians can take images of the back and make a diagnosis. CAT scans are essentially similar to X-rays, but are composed in three dimensions. An MRI is another powerful imaging device and is the best tool for diagnosing conditions affecting the spine. Sometimes doctors can check for abnormalities in the spine by conducting a myelogram. In this procedure dye is injected into the dura, or sacs, that surround the spinal column so that the nerve roots can appear in an x-ray. Lastly, physicians may use a bone scan where they can see the concentrations of radiographic material that has been injected into the body and test for tumors, fractures, or other abnormities that can contribute to back pain.
Nonspecific back pain is pain that has no specific cause and accounts for the most cases of back related pain. Back pain does not have to occur from specific injuries since many other factors can greatly affect the back such as bad posture, not exercising correctly, being overweight, or constantly lifting heavy objects. In most cases, nonspecific back pain occurs in the lower back. It can also be present in other parts of the back and radiate throughout the legs as well. A physical examination combined with other tests that examine abnormalities in the spine are used to locate the specific source of back pain. Generally, nonspecific back pain turns out to be caused by muscle strain which can be treated by relatively conservative methods. These methods usually include rest and refraining from unnecessary lifting or exercises combined with taking anti-inflammatory medications.
There are many risk factors that may lead to back pain. Occupations or activities that require constant or repetitive lifting add unnecessary weight to the muscles and tissue and as a result cause serious wear and tear on the back. Long periods of sitting and standing can also place similar stresses on the back which can lead to acute pain. Not getting enough exercise is also a serious risk factor. Without regular exercise the muscles and structures of the back become weak which may cause the back to become fatigued easily. Additionally, poor posture can lead to significant back pain over time. Without sitting, standing, and lifting objects properly, the back is at risk of developing strained tissue, causing serious problems to arise.
As mentioned above, many cases of back pain may begin treatment through the use of simple methods such as rest and anti-inflammatory medications. Additionally, regular exercise and maintaining good posture are effective ways to reduce tension and strain on the back. Other ways of treating back pain may include osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation which can help at the early onset of pain. Acupuncture may also be an option, however its effectives is still controversial. Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation (TENS) is a less common method of treatment and involves pulses of electricity sent through the back via electrodes placed on the back. In addition, there are also many forms of back braces and supports available that can add support and ease strain on the back.
Back pain is very common and there are many conditions that can contribute to discomfort. It�s important to understand the structures and complexities of the back in order to help prevent discomfort and injury as well as to better understand symptoms as they arise. Luckily, for most cases of back pain there are various treatment options available to ease discomfort. There are also many prevention techniques that can be employed to limit pain and keep it from reoccurring in the future.