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Back Pain: Common Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

No matter your fitness level, back injuries can drastically change the course of your athletic career and personal life. Why? Acute and chronic back pain appears in many forms, and can affect more parts of the body than simply the spinal area. Depending on the severity of the injury and symptoms, the journey to pain management and treatment will vary.  Any damage to the spine can cause conditions that will deter you from enjoying activities, but when the severity of your symptoms escalates to an intolerable level, consulting a professional is necessary to ensuring a swift, complete recovery.

Common Causes of Back Pain

There are many possible causes of back pain: from something minor, like incorrectly lifting a heavy object, to something more serious, like a car accident or a pre-existing condition. More severe or atypical causes of back pain can consist of sacroiliac joint dysfunction (incorrect joint functions), arthritis, skeletal irregularities and osteoporosis.

However, the most typical causes are:

Ligament or Muscle Strains or Sprains

Ligaments, muscles and tendons can be easily sprained or strained through improper movements while bending, twisting, stretching, or reaching. The resulting pain can range anywhere from mild to severe, depending on the intensity of the strain or sprain on the back.

Spinal Nerve Compression

When unwanted pressure is introduced to the spinal cord, the spinal nerves become compressed, entrapped or pinched, causing symptoms such as pain, numbness and weakness from the cervical spine (neck) to the lumbar spine (lower back).

Herniated or Bulging Discs

During any of the four stages of herniation, as discussed in our article about Herniated and Bulging Discs, the compression spinal discs can cause pain to spread from the buttock through to the legs, depending on the severity of the compression.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease does not actually consist of any one disease. Rather, it is the culmination of the effects age has on the body and spine. As you age, your body dehydrates. This causes the spaces between discs to narrow, resulting in changes in height and, often times, wear and tear of the cartilage between discs. The resulting excess pressure on the spine will cause pain.

Symptoms of Back Pain

General symptoms of back pain are as follows:

  • Dull, aching pain anywhere along the spine
  • Sharp, localized pain along the spine, especially after lifting heavy objects
  • Sharp, stinging, tingling or numb sensation that moves down the thighs and legs
  • Pain that becomes worse with movement
  • Pain that becomes worse after prolonged sitting
  • Unable to stand straight without having pain
  • Numbness in the arms and legs

Scheduling an appointment with a spine specialist is recommended if:

  • You notice the pain growing worse as time passes
  • You notice the pain beginning to affect your day-to-day activities
  • You notice groin or leg weakness
  • You experience arm or hand weakness, tingling or numbness
  • You experience loss of bowel or bladder control

5 Ways to Minimize Back Pain at Home

  1. Know and understand the cause of your back pain.
  2. Avoid activities that will exacerbate spinal stress.
    • For example, the best way to avoid back sprains or strains is to always lift with bent knees when lifting a heavy object, and to stretch thoroughly before exercising.
  3. Take short periods of rest throughout the day.
    • This can include laying down on a flat, soft surface, taking short walks and stretching every 20 minutes or so.
  4. Apply heat or cold to the problem area to reduce swelling and inflammation.
  5. Consider using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory and pain relieving drugs approved by your physicians.
    • Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen are just a few medicines that can reduce swelling and relieve tension from the problem area.

Exercises to Reduce Back Pain

As with all physical fitness, stretching before and after a workout is extremely important. There are a variety of types of stretches athletes can do to minimize stress on the back and relieve existing back pain.

  • Toe Touches
  • Sit-Ups on a flexible material, such as a yoga mat
  • Hamstring Stretches
  • Leg Lifts
  • Wall Sits
  • Press-Up Back Extensions
  • Bird-Dog
  • Knee-to-Chests
  • Pelvic Tilts
  • Bridging

 Common Medical Treatments for Back Pain

When back pain becomes severe, or does not improve after two weeks and at home treatment, it’s recommended to seek medical attention. Once you and your physician identify the cause of your back pain, you can move forward with creating a treatment plan, which might include pain-management medications such as:

  • Muscle relaxants
  • Topical Pain Relievers
  • Narcotics
  • Injections (Anti-Inflammatory Medications or Numbing Medications)

Depending on the severity of the problem, your physician may recommend surgery to repair or replace damaged tissue. The most common types of surgeries are Microdiscectomys (decompression surgeries) and lumbar spinal fusion surgeries. Decompression surgeries are minimally invasive procedures in which a layer of bone or soft tissue that is pushing against the nerve is removed. In a Lumbar Spinal Fusion surgery, the surgeon removes soft tissue between two adjacent vertebral bones and replaces them with bone or metal. This process requires time for the new material to fuse to the bone and recovery times are often between six and 12 months.

Beacon Has Your Back: From Consult to Recovery

At Beacon Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, we understand that back injuries impede on one’s day-to-day activities and dramatically affect an athlete’s career. Whether you are experiencing sharp, acute pain from a recent injury, or have dealt with chronic back pain for the majority of your life, Beacon can help you start your journey towards recovery.

We specialize in diagnosing and treating back pain and will be with you every step of your treatment options. If you are ready to eliminate symptoms and get back to living life pain free, schedule an appointment to meet with one of our spine specialists today.