Back Pain

What is back pain?

Back pain is a general term that describes the discomfort you feel from any number of activities – walking, bending over, reaching, playing sports or even just sitting. Back pain includes lower back pain, middle back pain and neck pain. Back pain is very common, with four out of five Americans experiencing it in their lifetimes.

What causes back pain?

The majority of back pain is muscle-related. Muscles in the back can strain or spasm (a spontaneous contraction), forming a hard lump in much the same way a charley horse can develop in the leg. Muscle spasms can come in waves and cause excruciating pain, which is your muscle’s way of telling you it’s been pushed beyond its limits.

How are the causes of back pain determined?

There are a variety of ways that your physician can diagnose the causes of back pain. Here are some of the most common:

  • Medical History. By asking questions about your medical history, a physician can identify possible causes of your back pain and suggest an appropriate treatment.  This is often the most important step.
  • Physical Exam. Simple tests for flexibility and muscle strength during a physical exam can help pinpoint the source of pain.
  • X-rays. X-rays can help determine whether there is a fracture or other problem with the bones in your back
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) uses a magnetic field and radio waves to look at soft tissues in the spine (such as discs).  It does not use radiation so it is usually our first choice.
  • CT scan/myelogram. A CT scan is similar to an MRI. A myelogram is a procedure that combines the use of dye with x-rays or CT scans to take pictures of the bones and fluid-filled space between the bones in your spine.  It does give radiation dose to the patient, so it is often our second choice.

What can I do for back pain?

Since back pain is typically caused by a muscle injury, it’s natural to want to stop moving the injured area and wait for it to heal. However, it’s important to gently stretch and exercise the muscle to get the muscle to stop the spasm.  Laying around has been proven to be counterproductive in relieving back pain.

You may wish to try the following:

  • Rest (only somewhat though).
  • Take anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen (Advil or Nuprin). Acetominophen (Tylenol) may be taken for pain if you’re allergic to ibuprofen.
  • Apply alternating ice or heat for five to ten minutes at a time as tolerated.
  • If you are finding that self-care is not managing your back pain, you may want to consider making an appointment with a Summit nonsurgical spine specialist.

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