A Comprehensive Guide on Back Pain
Who is affected?
Back pain is known clinically as lumbago. It is not a health disorder. Instead, it is a symptom of different medical conditions.
This condition is caused by a problem with any part(s) of the lower back, including:
- The vertebrae or vertebral bodies
It may also be a symptom of problems with nearby organs, like the kidney.
A report by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons says that between 75-85% of Americans will experience this condition in their lifetime. Of those, at least 50% will experience more than one episode within 12 months. In the majority of cases, the pain resolves without surgical treatment. If you experience the pain frequently, see your doctor.
What is the treatment for back pain?
In many cases, extensive treatment is not required for the pain. Medications can be purchased over the counter for this condition.
In extreme cases though, the condition may require stronger treatments, but they are administered by your doctor under very close supervision.
Medications for the treatment of back pain
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be used to relieve most episodes of pain. They include:
Acetaminophen and other analgesics may also be used, even though they do not possess any anti-inflammatory properties.
Note that ibuprofen is contraindicated in people with stomach ulcers and kidney problems.
Take only the recommended dose of over-the-counter medications, as incorrect doses may cause side effects.
Other medications that may be used include:
Ointments and topical rubs
Topical medications are very effective at relieving the pain. Most of these medications contain lidocaine and ibuprofen, which are more effective at pain relief compared to a placebo.
Opioids are very potent pain medications that relieve severe pain. Medications like oxycodone, and combined therapy of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, act on the body and brain cells to reduce pain.
You should be cautious when using opioids as it is easy to get addicted to it.
Muscle relaxants are used in the treatment of pain, especially when you are experiencing muscle spasms alongside the pain. Their action is targeted at the central nervous system.
Antidepressants may sometimes be used for treatment.
If your pain is severe, you may be given an amitriptyline prescription. Amitriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant because it targets different parts of the pain response. The antidepressant may also be used for the treatment of pain related to nerve dysfunction.
Cortisone steroid injections are also helpful for the treatment of severe pain. However, the relief offered by this type of medication wears off in three months.
Surgery for back pain
Surgery is considered the last resort. It is required in very rare cases. Surgery is reserved for structural abnormalities that cannot be treated with conventional modes of treatment.
- Compression of the nerve resulting in weakness of the muscle
- Very severe pain
One type of surgery that is used for the treatment of this condition is spinal fusion. In spinal fusion, the vertebrae are fused into a solid, single bone. It relieves the painful motion of the spine.
Surgery may be done for disk replacement and partial removal of the vertebrae. This relieves pain caused by degenerative bone diseases.
Some alternative therapies that help in the treatment of this condition include:
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Relaxation techniques
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Ensure that your doctor approves of it before undergoing any complementary or alternative treatment.
Home remedies for back pain
There are several home remedies for this condition. You can discuss these with your doctor.
Heat & ice therapy
Ice packs reduce inflammation and also relieve discomfort in acute back pain. Ice should not be applied directly to the skin. Wrap it in a gauze or a thin towel to avoid damage to your skin.
You can also relieve pain with warm compresses.
Exercises improve posture and strengthen your abdominal and back muscles. Exercises are highly recommended.
This treatment involves:
- Posture improvement
- Strengthening of the core muscles
- Lifting with the proper techniques
- Muscle stretch to improve flexibility.
You can learn these exercises from a physical therapist.
Studies have shown that lavender essential oil or capsaicin-based ointments can help with the pain.
Capsaicin is responsible for the hot taste of pepper. These ingredients make the nerves in the impacted area less sensitive and decrease pain.
A hot bath is very good for the treatment of muscle ache, but you can improve the therapeutic property of the water by adding Epsom salt. The minerals present in the salt bath are absorbed by your body and they help to ease your aching muscles.
Causes of back pain
Strain and structural abnormalities are the major causes of pain in the back.
Muscle strain is a major cause of this condition. Your muscle is at risk of being strained if you lift heavy objects incorrectly. Sudden awkward movements also put your muscles at risk of strain.
Over-activity also causes muscle strain. For instance, the stiffness and sore feeling that you experience after playing or doing some work in the yard for a few hours.
Your spine is made of vertebrae. The spaces between each vertebra are cushioned by disks. Injuries to the disk cause pain in the back.
In some cases, these disks can herniate, rupture, or bulge. When this happens, the nerves get compressed.
Herniated disks cause great pain. Compression of the nerve traveling from your back down to your leg may cause sciatica. Symptoms of sciatica include:
The pain may also be caused by osteoarthritis. It is caused by deterioration or damage to the cartilage of the joints in the lower part of your back.
Over time, arthritis may lead to spinal stenosis.
Osteoporosis is a term that defines the loss of bone density. Osteoporosis results in a fracture in the vertebrae. These fractures can cause intense pain and are known as compression fractures.
Other factors that contribute to back pain
Several other factors contribute to this condition. These factors are rare though. Consult your doctor if your symptoms refuse to go away.
After he’s ruled out the cause of your pain, your doctor will carry out some tests to determine if there’s an underlying cause. These may include:
- Kidney stones or kidney infection
- Nonmalignant spinal tumor or cancer of the spine
- Bacterial or fungal infection of the spine (maybe tuberculosis, Staphylococcus, or E. coli).
- Cauda equine syndrome or loss of nerve function at the lower spinal cord.
Common symptoms include:
- An aching sensation in the lower part of the back
- A shooting or stabbing pain that radiates down the leg to the foot
- Being unable to stand erect without pain
- A decrease in your range of motion, and an inability to flex the back.
If your symptoms are due to misuse or strain, they’ll last for a few weeks or days and then resolve.
If your symptoms last longer than three months, then it is chronic.
Symptoms that may indicate a serious problem
If your symptoms last longer than two weeks, please see your doctor. Sometimes, this condition may be a symptom of an underlying medical problem.
Symptoms of a serious medical condition include:
- Inability to control the bladder or bowel
- Tingling, weakness, or numbness in one or both legs
- Pain due to a throbbing sensation in the abdomen
- Constant, and very intense pain that worsens at night
- Weight loss
If you have any of these symptoms, please inform your doctor.
How is back pain diagnosed?
Diagnosis is done via a physical examination. During a physical exam to diagnose this condition, the following will be tested by your doctor:
- Your ability to walk and stand
- Range of motion of your spine
- Leg strength
- Ability to detect sensations in your legs
If your doctor suspects a serious condition, he or she might order other tests, such as:
- Urine or blood tests to check for underlying conditions
- Spinal x-rays to examine your bone alignment and check for breaks.
- Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scan to assess your muscles, discs, nerves, blood vessels, and ligaments.
- Electromyography to assess nerve function
- Bone scan
Preventing back pain
The following tips can help to prevent this condition, and also relieve you of the symptoms when they start.
Do not carry heavy kinds of stuff
Heavy laptop bags, suitcases, briefcases, and purses strain and stresses your spine and neck unnecessarily.
Reduce the load that you carry daily, and use bags that allow even distribution of weights, like a backpack. You can also use a bag that has wheels so your back is free of weight entirely.
Engage your core
Your abdominal and back muscles keep you upright and support you as you perform your physical activities. When you strengthen these muscles through exercises, you’ll reduce the chances of damage. Strain, or pain to your back.
Engage in strength-training workouts at least twice weekly.
Work on your posture
You must maintain the right posture. A poor posture will strain and pressurize your spine unnecessarily. This can result in damage and pain.
Always sit upright in your chair.
When you perform the same task daily, you’ll leave your muscles more apt to strain and fatigue. A regular stretch can help boost circulation in those tired muscles while also reducing the risk of pain.
A study by the Mayo Clinic shows that you have a very high risk of back pain if you:
- Do a sedentary job
- Fail to exercise
- Are of old age
- Are a smoker
- Are obese
- Do not warm-up or stretch before engaging in any high-impact activity
- You have been diagnosed with arthritis or any other specific condition.
Exercises for back pain
Easy exercises and gentle stretches can ease your pain and prevent problems in the future. Important exercises that help with this condition include bridges and yoga.
It is a common disorder. The risk of getting it increases as you get older. It suffices to say that many Americans will experience pain in the back at some point in their lives. In some cases, pain in the back may become chronic.
Most cases of pain resolve on their own with treatment. Occasionally, you may need injections or prescription medications. This will be given by your doctor. Surgery may be required in rare cases.
But there’s good news. It can be prevented. Doing daily stretches, strength training, and yoga can make your core muscles and back muscles stronger and resilient.
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.