Diseases & Conditions

Back Pain

Back PainCausesMedicationsPreventionRisk FactorsSymptomsTreatmentTypes

What is Back Pain?

One of the most common ailments is back pain or what is known medically as dorsalgia. Nine out of ten adults in the United States will experience back pain at some time in their lives.

Causes of Back Pain

There are several different causes for back pain.

  • Lower muscle strain-the most common reason for lumbar or lower dorsalgia. Usually the situation resolves itself in a few weeks.
  • Ruptured Disc-the tissue between each vertebra can develop a tear causing a ruptured disc
  • Spondylolisthesis-slipping vertebra can cause severe back pain.
  • Discogenic Dorsalgia-back pain caused by strain or damage to the disc but it does not go as far as a rupture.
  • Arthritis of the lower spine-arthritis can effect the smaller joints in the spine causing pain with movement.
  • Osteoporosis-vertebral fractures due to weakened bone can be the cause of back pain.
  • Spinal Stenosis-the spinal canal can narrow or become tight causing pain.

Medications for Back Pain

There are several over the counter medications that will help with less severe back pain. These include acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Prescription medications may also help, including muscle relaxants and painkillers. The muscle relaxants are Soma, Valium and Flexeril. The more popular narcotics are Codeine, Darvocet, Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycontin. Oral Steroids like a Medrol Dose Pack can help relieve back pain. Ultram or Tramadol is similar to a narcotic but not as strong and serves to alleviate dorsalgia.

Prevention of Back Pain

There are several steps an individual can take to prevent back pain. Lift heavy objects using the legs and abdominal muscles instead of the back muscles. Try not to twist the body excessively. Stay hydrated as water increases the size of the intervertebral discs so they are more effective spinal shock absorbers. Exercise to strengthen both the abdominal and back muscles. Maintain a healthy weight and healthy lifestyle. Do not put strain on the back or neck when sleeping. Instead find a sleeping position that alleviates any pressure in those areas. Warm up and stretch before exercising to prevent immediate injury. Cool down and stretch after exercising to prevent muscles from tightening and causing pain. Do not sit for a long time. This can put pressure on the discs causing dorsalgia.

Risk Factors of Back Pain

There are several risk factors that can predispose an individual to back pain. Obesity can lead to back pain as the back is forced to support the extra weight around the middle. Employment that is strenuous and involves heavy lifting can put the back at risk as can a sedentary job where there is not much movement. Women are more likely to have back pain. Individuals suffering from depression, anxiety or stress may also feel back pain. Pregnancy, poor posture and smoking are additional contributing factors.

Symptoms of Back Pain

Symptoms of back pain include a feeling of stiffness or aching anywhere on the back from the hips all the way up to the neck. In some instances the individual will feel a sharp pain relegated to one small area of the back. This pain usually occurs after heavy lifting or other arduous activity. An ache in the lower back or the middle back can occur after an individual has been sitting or standing for a long time. In some cases the pain can move from the back and down the leg into the toes. Finally some individuals find it impossible to stand up straight without severe and painful muscle symptoms. Severe symptoms of back pain include tingling, a numb feeling or inability to control appendages. Sharp pain extending down into the legs can indicate sciatica. Severe pain when an individual coughs or bends forward can be indications of a herniated disc. A dull pain localized to one area of the spine when lying down or rising from the bed can be an indication of osteoarthritis.

Treatment for Back Pain

Depending on the severity and cause of the dorsalgia treatment will vary. Heat therapy is a common means of release. In some instances cold therapy may work too. Muscle relaxants, NSAIDSs and opioids are used quite often to relieve the pain. Massage and accupressure are optional treatments. In some cases specific exercises can help alleviate back pain. Physical therapy consisting of stretching, strengthening and manipulation of the back muscles has been effective in some cases. Surgery is an option for those with physical deterioration of the intervertebral discs, fractures, scoliosis and spondylolisthesis.

Types of Back Pain

There are three basic types of back pain:

  • Acute Pain-acute back pain typically lasts no more than 6 months. It can be the result of some type of tissue damage such as a muscle pull.
  • Chronic Pain-chronic dorsalgia is ongoing pain with no measurable time frame. It can be caused by an identifying factor such as an accident or disc problem or it can have no known cause.
  • Neuropathic Pain-neuropathic back pain is also called nerve pain. Neuropathic pains are usually sharp and can be associated with tingling or numbness.