Back pain or backache may originate from an injury to the muscles, nerves, bones, joints or other structures in the spine. Back pain is one of the most common problems experienced by a majority of individuals, at some point of their lives. Some of the common terms for back pain include lumbago, back sprain or strain, slipped disc, sciatica and pinched nerve.
Back pain can be acute lasting from a few days to a few weeks, or chronic lasting for more than three months. Back pain may either be localized to the back or may radiate to other areas such as the arm and /or legs. Cervical radiculopathy refers to the pain that originates in the neck and radiates to the arms.
Back pain can either be a dull constant pain or a sudden sharp pain. Apart from pain you may also experience weakness, numbness or tingling sensation in your arms or legs caused by an injury to the spinal cord.
The most common cause of back pain is strained or sprained muscles and ligaments. Other causes include poor posture and body mechanics, sacroiliac joint inflammation, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, spondylosis, herniated discs, sciatica, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, injury or trauma to the back, spinal tumors and infection of the spinal joints.
The diagnosis for back pain comprises of medical history, physical examination, and neurological examination. Your doctor will test your sensations, reflexes, and the strength of the muscles. Other imaging tests such as an X-ray, CT or MRI scan may be ordered to determine the cause of your back pain. An MRI scan may be used to determine if any spinal nerves are being compressed.
Most of the time back pain can be resolved without surgery. Conservative treatment involves activity modifications, anti-inflammatory and pain medications, muscle relaxants, local injections, physical therapy, braces to support the spine, spinal decompression machine, chiropractic, and acupuncture. Your doctor may recommend combining two or more therapies, in order to maximize your chances of successful treatment.
Surgery is usually considered in patients with spine instability or neurological dysfunction and if pain is persistent and does not respond to conservative treatment.
You should seek medical attention if you have back pain accompanied by any of the following signs or symptoms:
- Persistent back pain
- Pain radiating to the legs
- Weakness, numbness or tingling, hot/cold/burning feeling in the legs
- Numbness around the genitals and /or buttocks
- Bowel or bladder problems
- Persistent Back pain following an injury
- Elevated body temperature (fever)