In 2020, the Health Policy Institute at Georgetown University reported that over 16 million adults experience limiting, chronic back pain. That's 8% of all adults! Yet, despite being such a common ailment, public knowledge regarding the causes of back pain and potential solutions for that pain is quite limited.

At Sports Medicine and Joint Replacement Specialists, our team is dedicated to aiding those with severe back pain. That's why, in this article, we'll be providing a comprehensive guide on how exactly you can step into 2024 with the knowledge you need to take your back pain into your own hands.

Understanding Back Pain

To tackle any health issue, the first important step is knowing how and where this condition has emerged. While there are many causes of back pain, and this pain can be pinpointed to several anatomical locations within the body, these are a few of the most common.

Common Causes of Back Pain

  • Spinal Stenosis: This condition involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can put pressure on the cord and nerves in the spine. It's commonly seen in older adults and can lead to significant discomfort and mobility issues.
  • Poor Posture: In the digital age, where many spend hours in front of computers, poor posture has become a leading cause of back pain. Slouching or sitting improperly for extended periods can strain the back muscles and spinal ligaments.
  • Heavy Lifting: Improper lifting techniques or lifting objects that are too heavy can strain the back muscles and spinal ligaments, leading to acute or even chronic back pain. This is often seen in occupations that require physical labor, but can also occur in everyday activities.

Anatomy Involved in Back Pain

  • Spinal Cord: The spinal cord is a vital part of the central nervous system, running through the spinal canal in the vertebrae. It carries messages between the brain and the rest of the body. Compression or damage to the spinal cord due to various conditions can result in back pain.
  • Spinal Joints: The spine is made up of several bones (vertebrae) that are connected by joints. These joints allow for flexibility and movement. However, arthritis or wear and tear can affect these joints, leading to back pain.
  • Lumbar Spine: The lower part of the spine, known as the lumbar region, is a common area for pain. It bears the upper body's weight and is involved in bending and twisting movements, making it susceptible to injury and strain.

Types of Back Pain

Diagnosing and treating back pain requires a thorough understanding of the specifics of your condition. Back pain is not a singular issue; it manifests in various forms, each with its unique characteristics and underlying causes. Below, we'll delve into three of the most common types of back pain.

  • Chronic Low Back Pain

    Chronic low back pain refers to pain in the lower back region that persists for more than three months. Unlike acute back pain, which might result from an injury or a short-term strain, chronic low back pain often indicates an ongoing problem. It can be caused by a variety of factors including degenerative changes in the spine, prolonged poor posture, and underlying medical conditions.

  • Severe Back Pain

    Severe back pain is characterized by its intensity and the limitation it imposes on a person's daily activities. This type of pain is often acute but can become chronic if not properly addressed. It may arise from injuries such as a herniated disc, a severe muscle strain, or as a symptom of conditions like kidney stones or severe degenerative disc disease.

  • Upper Body Related Back Pain

    This type of back pain affects the thoracic region (the middle and upper back). It's less common than lower back pain but can be equally debilitating. Causes of this kind of pain can include poor ergonomics, muscle strain, or spinal issues that affect the upper spine.

Limiting Your Back Pain Risk Factors

Like most other conditions, certain things can make one more prone to back problems than others. The good news is that there are helpful prevention strategies and tips to help mitigate the impacts of your risk factors.

  • The Risk Factor: A Sedentary Lifestyle

    The Prevention Strategy: Incorporate exercises into your daily (or even weekly) routine that strengthen the core muscles, which support the spine. Activities like walking, swimming, and yoga can improve flexibility and strength. In addition to this, try to incorporate strong nutrition into your diet, as maintaining a healthy weight can do wonders for the symptoms of this pain.

  • The Risk Factor: A Limited Workspace

    The Prevention Strategy: In our era of remote work, you might feel unable to get in a strong amount of movement. Attempt to set up your workspace to promote good posture. Computer screens should be at eye level, and chairs should support the lower back. If your job requires long periods of sitting, take regular breaks to stand, stretch, and walk around to activate the muscles and relieve tension.

  • The Risk Factor: Poor Posture

    The Prevention Strategy: Maintaining a neutral pelvic position can greatly help in aligning the spine properly. If you want to achieve this, you can start by practicing proper sitting and standing techniques. While sitting, keep your feet flat on the floor, and use a chair that provides lower back support. Your knees should be at or slightly higher than your hip level. When standing, distribute your weight evenly on both feet and avoid locking your knees. Keep your shoulders back and relaxed.

How Is Back Pain Actually Diagnosed?

Making the personal discovery that you're suffering from back pain is one thing, but unfortunately, there's nothing that can truly be done until you're evaluated by a healthcare professional. But, what does this actually look like?

Well, a physical examination is often the first step in diagnosing back pain. During this exam, a healthcare professional will check for areas of tenderness, the range of motion, and the strength of the back and limbs. Specific tests, like asking the patient to walk on their toes or heels, can also help pinpoint the source of the pain.

It's also quite important to be as detailed as you can when your provider is asking you questions about your medical history. These can be about the onset, duration, and severity of the pain, any previous episodes of back pain, or the presence of other symptoms. The more information you can give, the better!

This first appointment might feel intimidating, but once it's out of the way and scheduled, the entire process becomes far more simple from there.

Exploring Your Treatment Options

When it comes to treating back pain, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The approach recommended by your healthcare professional will depend on the underlying cause of the pain and its severity.

  • Non-Surgical Treatment Options

    For mild back pain, non-surgical treatment options may be effective. These can include low-impact exercises, over-the-counter medication, physical therapy, and hot or cold therapy. These methods are often used to reduce pain and inflammation while improving flexibility and strength.

  • Surgical Treatment Options

     If non-surgical treatments don't provide relief, surgical options may be considered. In some cases, surgery may be the only option for treating the underlying cause of back pain, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. Consulting with a specialist can help determine the best surgical approach for your specific condition.

Don't Wait For The Care You Need

Sometimes, the worst thing that you can do for your back pain is simply 'wait it out.' More often than not, this results in worsening pain and the eventual, unnecessary decline of your condition. Ultimately, the choice to seek a diagnosis and medical treatment is the best thing you can do to achieve relief from the condition that's causing pain.

Luckily, here at Sports Medicine and Joint Replacement Specialists, we are dedicated to helping patients discover the underlying cause of their pain so that it can be reduced and treated as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If you’re interested in learning more about back pain and the opportunity for your treatment, consider taking a look at the wide array of services offered at Sports Medicine & Joint Replacement Specialists. Your pain won't wait- so you shouldn't either! Schedule an appointment online with us today and get back to the things you love!