FAQs About Back Pain
(Back Pain Facts contributed by Laser Spine Institute)
1. What can relieve severe back pain?
- A. Anti-inflammatory medications
- B. Physical therapy
- C. Surgical procedures
- D. All of the above
One of the best ways to ward off back pain is by adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In addition, physical therapy, mild chiropractic work and stretching can also help alleviate back pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen and epidural steroid injections, can be used to relieve pain and reduce swelling in the back as well.
Chiropractic manipulation is a sought-out solution as well. If conservative treatments for back pain don’t work, you may need to seek out alternative treatment options such as back surgery. A variety of surgical procedures are available, including laminotomy, foraminotomy, endoscopic discectomy, minimally invasive stabilization and facet thermal ablation. As always, it is best to consult with your physician before beginning a treatment plan.
2. Back pain can be relieved without pain medication. True or False?
Several options may relieve back pain without medication. One solution may be to restrict activity and/or rest if you have a potentially strained back muscle. Another solution is to keep your bones strong with low-impact, strength-training exercises like swimming or walking, along with a healthy diet that includes calcium and vitamin D. Additionally, standing and sitting up straight will do wonders to keep pain away. Deep-tissue massages as well as chiropractic care may also help reduce pain without medication.
3. What causes back pain?
- A. Injury
- B. Aging
- C. Disease
- D. All of the above
Back pain affects most of us at some point in our lives. In fact, more than 80 percent of adults in America suffer from back pain. It can come on as a result of an injury or overexertion, or as a side effect of aging. Certain conditions and diseases such as scoliosis, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, foraminal stenosis and sciatica can cause back pain. Back pain can also come as a result of degenerating or ruptured discs, spasms or tense muscles. If you have a job that requires you to lift, push or pull repeatedly while twisting your spine, you may notice an increase in back pain. You may also experience neck and back pain if you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, especially if you’re not sitting up straight.
4. Back pain can lead to serious health consequences. True or False?
Obvious risks associated with back pain include trouble sleeping and persistent pain, numbness or tingling. It is rare for lower back pain to be considered dangerous, although some untreated symptoms may become serious. One such condition is an acute herniated disc that severely compresses the spinal cord. If left untreated, this could lead to paralysis and/or bowel and bladder dysfunction. Also, lower back pain caused by infection in the spinal vertebrae may be dangerous, as it could lead to secondary cancer, though these conditions in the spinal region are rare.
5. Is there a difference between acute and chronic back pain?
Acute is the most common type of back pain. It typically comes on quickly as the result of an injury such as falling, lifting a heavy object or playing sports. This type of pain generally goes away within six weeks. Chronic back pain lasts for more than three months. You should consult your physician if your back pain doesn’t improve or if you experience persistent numbness or tingling.
6. What are symptoms of a herniated disc?
A. Neck and lower back pain
B. Muscle weakness
C. Numbness of the limbs
D. All of the above
Resting between your vertebral bodies are discs that act as shock absorbers for the spine. These discs, composed of a thick wall (known as annulus fibrosus) and a gel-like inner core (nucleus pulposus), facilitate movement and reduce friction between vertebrae. Over time, these discs can be worn to the point that the outer wall bulges or herniates. The gel-like substance from inside the disc contains compounds that can leak out and irritate the disc wall, or compress the spinal cord or its nerve roots, causing pain.
Symptoms include neck and lower back pain, radiating or shooting pain in the limbs on one side of the body, muscle weakness and spasms, numbness in the limbs and difficulty walking. Herniated discs can arise due to a number of risk factors, including the normal aging process, genetics, severe trauma such as a car accident, repetitive stress from extended sitting or heavy lifting, being overweight or having a sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy diet or abuse of substances including alcohol and tobacco.
7. What causes degenerative disc disease?
The gradual deterioration of discs between vertebrae is referred to as degenerative disc disease and is medically termed spondylosis. However, degenerative disc disease should not be considered a disease, since it can stem from aging. As we age, the water and protein content of the body’s cartilage decreases. This makes the cartilage more fragile, thin and weak. Because both the discs and joints in the vertebral column (facet joints) are partially composed of cartilage, these structures are increasingly subject to wear and tear or degenerative changes over time.
In addition, disc degeneration can occur at any level of the spine, possibly causing pain in the affected area and radiating pain along the nerves emerging from the spinal canal. Several factors influence the speed at which degenerative changes occur. Genetics, infection, concomitant disease, trauma, overuse, body weight and other factors all influence the rate of degenerative changes and their significance.
8. What questions should I ask my physician to determine if I need back surgery?
A. What is the source of my pain?
B. What are the differences in types of procedures/treatments?
C. What are the potential risks?
D. All of the above
If conservative treatment options have been exhausted and you still experience pain that persists or worsens, it may be time to have a conversation with your physician about considering back surgery. One of the most important things to discuss with your physician is what the cause of the pain is so you can determine what type of surgery you may need. By understanding the source of the pain, you can begin the next step of deciding what type of surgery is recommended and why. Careful assessment of the patient may reveal the primary source of pain to be localized to a particular body part with an identifiable injury or disease.
When considering a painful spine, the careful evaluation of a patient by an experienced spinal surgeon may reveal an abnormality that can be surgically corrected. Additional questions that should be asked include: What are the differences in types of procedures? How long will the surgery take? What will the recovery time be? What are some of the potential risks and complications? What are the outcomes? What are payment and insurance options? Patients should also do their own research and learn about their potential surgeon’s qualifications and reputation, and the credibility of the surgical facility. By having an honest and open conversation with your physician, you can decide if back surgery is right for you.
PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.
View All By PainPathways