Back pain is a common condition which affects most people in the United States at least once in their lifetime.
Though most back pain does not have a definite cause, conditions that have been linked to back pain include muscle strain from activities like repeatedly lifting heavy objects incorrectly or sitting with a poor posture.
Bulging or ruptured disks can also cause back pain by compressing a nerve. Arthritis can also contribute to the development of this condition by causing spinal stenosis or narrowing of the space around the spinal cord. Other diseases which affect the bones like osteoporosis can also cause back pain if the bones fracture.
Symptoms of back pain include muscle aches, a shooting or stabbing pain in the back and pain that radiates or travels down the leg. Other symptoms include limited flexibility or range of motion of the back and inability to stand up straight.
Diagnostic tests that can be done for patients with back pain to help determine the cause include x-rays of the back since these can show if there are fractures, tumors or osteoarthritis and reveal if the bones are correctly aligned.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is also done to reveal the presence of herniated disks and other problems with soft tissues like the muscles and ligaments that may causing the back pain.
Electrodiagnostic studies that can be done on patients with back pain include electromyography (EMG) which evaluates the responses of muscles to electrical impulses produced by the nerves. The EMG can confirm the presence of nerve compression from herniated disks or spinal stenosis.
Medications used to treat back pain include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) since they reduce the pain and inflammation. Narcotics like codeine and hydrocodone are prescribed for those with more severe pain.
Cold compression packs are also used to relieve back pain. These are usually applied for 20 minute durations several times during the day for two to three days. Their application is then followed by that of hot compression packs to increase blood flow.
Muscle relaxants like diazepam are given for patients with spasms. Their side effects include drowsiness and dizziness.Tricyclic antidepressants like amitriptyline are also prescribed for the treatment of back pain since they dull pain signals in the brain.
Trigger point injections are also used to treat back pain. In this procedure the doctor injects a mixture of corticosteroids and local anesthetics into trigger points within the muscle. These are areas which irritate nerves since the muscle is in spasm. This five minute procedure which is done in the doctor’s office, relieves the pain by making the trigger point inactive. The doctor can also inject the numbing medications and steroids into facet joints and other structures believed to be causing the back pain.
Surgery is usually reserved for those patients in whom the compressed nerve causes severe back pain that radiates down the leg and that has associated muscle weakness, numbness or burning sensations. In these operations the surgeons remove the disks or bone spurs that are compressing the nerve.
Supportive treatment for back pain includes physical therapy in which a structured exercise program is designed by a physical therapist to strengthen the muscles and increase flexibility. Other treatments used include heat, ultrasound, electrical stimulation and muscle release techniques to reduce the pain.
The treatment of back pain is important since if not treated it can persist and cause chronic pain, weakness of the leg muscles and a loss in economic productivity.
The latest study on back pain reveals that weather is not a trigger for back pain. This Australian study found that weather factors like temperature, humidity, air pressure and precipitation did not increase the risk for a person developing low back pain.
Support groups for persons with back pain in Tennessee include the Chronic Pain Management Group hosted by Dr Dewaine Rice who can be contacted by phone at 901 235 8824. The group meets at McVay Counseling Center, 2305 McVay road, Germantown, Tennessee 38138.