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The Case of Acute and Chronic Back Pain: When to Seek Consultation

While the majority of back pain episodes resolve quickly, back pain stands as one of the most common categories of pain in the US. Whether you have suffered an acute spinal injury or have developed chronic back pain over the years, Dr. Ian P. Rodway, and the experienced team of physicians at Beacon Orthopaedics can help assess and determine the best course of action to remove pain from your daily life.

Below is a run-down of the symptoms and causes of acute and chronic back pain, and the courses your physician can take to diagnose and resolve the pain.

The Spine: A Support System

Your back is the main support system of your body. It carries the weight of the upper body, protects your spinal column, supplies sensation to the muscles in the pelvis, legs, and feet, provides mobility and stability for everyday motions like bending and twisting your torso, and flexing and rotating the hips.

Spinal Anatomy

  • Cervical Curve: supports the weight of the head
    • Cervical Vertebrae
      • C1-C7
    • Thoracic Curve: supports the rib cage and protect the heart and lungs
      • Thoracic Vertebrae
        • T1-T12
      • Lumbar Curve: supports the weight of the body
        • Lumbar Vertebrae
          • L1-L5
        • Sacral Vertebrae
          • S1-S5
        • Coccyx (Tailbone)

 Common Causes of Back Pain:

  • Cancer
  • Tumors
  • Neoplasm
  • Inflammatory Arthritis
  • Degenerative Disc Disease
  • Disc Herniation
  • Bulging Disc
  • Facet Syndrome
  • Synovitis
  • Capsulitis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Degenerative Joint Disease
  • Spondylolisthesis
  • Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS)
  • Fractures and Dislocations
  • Sprains and Strains
  • Compression Fractures
  • Discitis
  • Kyphosis
  • Lordosis
  • Ligament Hypertrophy
  • Obesity
  • Trauma
  • Pregnancy
  • Radiculopathy
  • Sciatica
  • Scoliosis

Diagnostic Testing Procedures:

  • X-rays
  • Cat Scan (CT)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Myelogram
  • Discography
  • EMG
  • Bone Density Test
  • Bone Scan

 Genetic Related Risk Factors

  • Age (middle-aged or older)
  • Family history of back pain
  • Pregnancy
  • Previous back injury
  • Previous compression fractures of the spine
  • Previous back surgery
  • Genetic Disorder

Lifestyle Related Risk Factors

  • Not getting regular exercise
  • Sitting for long periods of time
  • Consistently lifting heavy objects
  • Consistent use of a jackhammer
  • Driving certain types of heavy equipment
  • Smoking
  • Excess body weight, especially around the waist
  • Poor posture
  • Being under stress

Medical Related Risk Factors

  • Long periods of depression
  • Using medicines long-term that weaken bones
  • Having an illness or disease that causes chronic coughing

Assessing Acute and Chronic Back Pain

Because of its direct involvement in the support and functionality of your body, any form of injury to the back can prove to be a massive detriment to your overall health and well-being.

There are two main types of pain associated with the back: acute and chronic back pain.

Acute Back Pain

Acute back pain is sudden, sharp and severe but lasts a short period of time—usually resulting from injury to the muscles, ligaments, joints, or discs. This acute pain is a byproduct of the body’s inflammatory healing response to trauma. Any amount of inflammation in the spine can cause severe pain.

Chronic Back Pain

Most back pain will fade away with time, but sometimes that pain returns or never fully goes away in the first place. Chronic back pain is the persistent return of pain, and can be characterized as:

  • Mild
  • Deep
  • Achy
  • Burning
  • Stinging
  • Electric-like

Chronic back pain is a condition that results from not taking back pain seriously, and is usually accompanied by mild or severe muscle spasms, limited mobility, and aches in the hips, pelvis, buttocks, legs, and feet.

Possible Symptoms:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Cramping
  • Stiffness
  • Pain radiates to the buttock
  • Leg pain
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Weakness

Nonsurgical Treatments for Back Pain

  • Physical Therapy
    • Retraining your posture
    • Testing the limits of pain tolerance
    • Stretching and flexibility exercises
    • Aerobic exercises
    • Core strengthening
  • Mindfulness and Meditation
  • Diet and Lifestyle Modifications
  • Injection-based Treatments
  • Alternative Treatments
    • Acupuncture
    • Massage
    • Biofeedback therapy
    • Laser therapy
    • Electrical nerve stimulation
    • Pharmacologic Treatments
  • Narcotics
  • Anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Muscle relaxants

Surgical Treatments for Back Pain

Back surgery can help relieve some of the causes of back pain, but it’s rarely necessary—usually surgery is the best option after more conservative treatments have proven ineffective and if symptoms are persistent and disabling.

Some spinal surgeries are considerably more invasive than others, and include lengthier healing periods, significant pain during recovery, and varying hospital stays. However, some spine specialists are able to perform minimally invasive spine surgeries to remedy certain conditions. Always check with your physician to be sure the correct path to recovery is reached.

When to Seek Medical Attention

It is imperative you schedule an immediate appointment with a specialist, if you experience the following:

  • You can no longer stand upright without pain.
  • You develop a fever with the pain.
  • You begin to lose bladder or bowel function or control
  • Your pain and/or weakness progressively worsens.
  • You develop chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.
  • You are unable to move part of the body.
  • Your pain wakes you from sleep.

Schedule Your Spinal Consult with Beacon Orthopaedics

Dr. Ian P. Rodway of the Beacon Spine Team is an expert in the mechanics and treatment of acute and chronic spinal conditions and injuries. He is qualified in all aspects of spinal surgery, with particular interests in degenerative conditions of the cervical and lumbar spine, and adult deformity, and places a major focus on minimally invasive and motion sparing techniques, including disc replacement.

If your symptoms are keeping you up at night in more ways than one, please schedule an appointment today.