Back pain is a common health disorder and accounts for a large number of cases seen by doctors. Back pain can affect individuals at any stage of their life. It usually has a sudden onset and may last from a few days to a few weeks (acute pain). Sometimes the pain may last even beyond three months (chronic pain). The intensity of pain may vary from mild to severe. Acute pain is usually severe in intensity.
Medical intervention is necessary if the back pain is acute and severe, not resolving in three days, spreading to the buttock and legs, secondary to an injury, or associated with weakness of the legs, fever and bladder or bowel dysfunction.
Back pain can result from poor posture, injury and trauma, or a disease of the spine. Sometimes diseases of the abdominal or thoracic organs can also lead to back pain; this is known as referred pain. Conditions of the spine which may cause back pain include sprain, strain, herniated disc, spondylosis, spinal stenosis, infection of the vertebrae, spondylitis or tumor.
Back pain may also be associated with other symptoms such as muscular rigidity, difficulty in movement, tenderness, numbness, tingling and burning sensation.
Back pain is a symptom rather than a disease. A wide variety of conditions can cause back pain. A proper diagnosis is crucial for efficient treatment of back pain. Hence a diagnosis of back pain includes medical history coupled with physical and neurological examination. Neurological examination is done to identify any neurological injury and involves evaluation of reflexes and muscle weakness by various tests. To confirm the diagnosis the doctor may order an X-ray, MRI or CT scan. An MRI is usually ordered if compression of the nerves and or spinal cord is to be confirmed.
Non-surgical treatment for back pain is the preferred approach. It includes activity modification, pain medication and anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, physical therapy and spinal injections. Braces may sometimes be recommended to keep the lower back still and reduce mechanical pain due to movement. Non-surgical decompression, chiropractic or acupuncture may also be helpful in some cases.
Surgery is considered only if pain and other associated symptoms do not improve with the non-surgical methods or a neurologic dysfunction and spinal instability is evident at the time of diagnosis.
Consult your doctor to clarify any doubts or unanswered questions about back pain or the available treatment options.