A review of some common acute and chronic back pain conditions. We cover ways to manage minor back injuries at home, finding medical professionals to diagnose and treat back pain, and physical therapy treatments available to help you recover.
Back Pain Review
Back pain encompasses many different experiences and levels of debility for people who suffer from it. The basic term can encompass acute pain or chronic issues that get in the way of enjoying life or working. The one constant for people who suffer from painful back problems is that they wanted to stop as soon as possible. Once you understand the different types of back pain and have your specific problem diagnosed, there are multiple ways to manage it so you can go back to your regular, positive lifestyle.
Types of Back Pain
Categorizing back pain can be done in multiple ways. Is the pain temporary or permanent? Where does the pain come from? How much does it hurt, and does it impede physical functionality in any way? Answering these and other questions are important parts of identifying the cause of your back pain and potential treatment options.
Acute Back Pain Caused by Minor Injury
Injuries cause the most specific and short-lived types of back pain. These include bruises due to an impact of some kind in most cases. Like with any other minor injury, rest, ice or heat, and time will help you recover. Of course, more serious accidents can lead to chronic problems. When your back is involved, always seek medical diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.
When most people talk about back pain, they mean chronic discomfort that gets in the way of their ordinary activities and enjoyment of life. This is caused by a variety of problems.
Muscle Strains and Soreness
The most common types of back pain reported by Medical News Today include general soreness and ache from pulled muscles, tension, damaged ligaments, and other strains(Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments). These can create everything from an unpleasant ache at the end of a hard day to constant discomfort that leaves you lying on the couch and reaching for over-the-counter pain relievers more often than not.
This type of muscular pain issue may come from one instance of slipping and falling, lifting a heavy object improperly, or otherwise experiencing abrupt trauma. A lot of back pain comes from repetitive stress injuries, however. Regular heavy lifting, bending and stretching, poor posture, long periods of driving, and even poor sleep habits can cause ongoing discomfort.
Spinal Structural Problems
Back pain’s other main cause comes from physiological problems related to the spinal column. These include bone- and nerve-related issues. In most cases, wear and tear over time and age-related conditions make up the bulk of these problems. (NIDH: Low Back Pain Fact Sheet) They include:
- Bulging, herniated, or ruptured disks
- Arthritis including osteoarthritis and spondylosis
- Spinal stenosis – narrowing of space for nerves
- Osteoporosis or other vertebrae fractures
- Sciatica – Pressure specifically on the sciatic nerve
Issues with the kidneys, uterus and other internal organs can also cause lower back pain. In some cases, things like tumors or blood clots are also at fault.
Managing Back Pain
Eliminating and managing back pain involves either fixing the problem that caused it or finding a way to minimize discomfort going forward.
Eliminating the causes of muscle and ligament strain is the first step in recovering comfort. Minimize picking up heavy objects, minimize sitting or driving time, and reduce strenuous physical activity that puts tension on your spinal column and back muscles. Also, get a better mattress and use foam wedges or pillows to align your spine more positively.
Ice Packs and Hot Compresses
Both hot and cold treatment options can reduce pain temporarily. This is the same type of treatment you would use if you sprained your wrist, twisted her ankle, or strained any other large muscle in your body.
OTC Medication and Prescription Drugs
For temporary pain, simple over-the-counter pills and topical creams or ointments can help you feel better. Anti-inflammatory medications are specifically designed to target the type of pain that frequently occurs with muscle strains. Your physician may prescribe more serious anti-pain drugs or muscle relaxants for acute injuries, surgery recovery, and chronic problems.
Moving, Stretching, and Strength
Although it may seem contraindicated, certain types of careful exercise actually help with back pain. This includes everything from gentle stretches to help align the spine and work out tense muscles to core strength building for longer-term back support. Make sure your physician or care team approves any type of physical activity or therapeutic movement before you begin.
Types of Doctors for Back Pain
The type of physician you use for back pain depends entirely on its cause and ongoing management options(Very Well Health: 10 Types of Back Pain Specialists). Receiving an accurate diagnosis is essential for continuing with an effective treatment plan. This matters for both acute, short-term discomfort and chronic pain.
Due to the structure of the healthcare industry and access, most patients who experience back pain go to a general practitioner, primary care physician, or family doctor first. This is the person who can usually identify the cause of back pain and refer you to a specialist who treats the specific issue. If your pain stems from repetitive stress or an accident, they will undoubtedly handle your treatment directly.
More serious issues with the spinal structure get handed over to orthopedists. These surgeons specialize in musculoskeletal problems like scoliosis, ruptured discs, vertebrae fractures, and similar problems. In some cases, surgery is the final option for alleviating pain and minimizing the risk of further issues after you and your care team exhaust other treatment options.
These specialists deal with the nervous system, which obviously involves the spinal column. In the process of alleviating back pain, these positions will diagnose chronic, nerve-related pain. Their primary roles include diagnosis, prescribing medication, and referrals to neurosurgeons or other specialists.
If arthritis or osteoarthritis is the main cause of your back pain, a rheumatologist will help solve the problem. For extremely serious problems that affect the spinal nerves or bones, you will probably get a referral to another type of doctor.
Physical Therapy: Effective for a Variety of Back Pain
Broken vertebrae need mending, arthritis may need anti-inflammatory medication, and all types of back pain can benefit from a proper mattress, good posture, and more careful bending and lifting practices. If surgery or other serious treatment options are not good options for you, physical therapy can alleviate a lot of back pain for many sufferers.
What Can a Physical Therapist Do?
For chronic back pain, therapists present a variety of options. They can help with simple treatments, help release muscle tension, and teach you ways to position yourself and move to reduce discomfort. This may include flexibility and strength training, help with posture and sleeping positions, and proper lifting or work techniques to minimize the risk of making back pain worse.
Physical Therapy is Cost-Effective
When exploring options of any type of medical treatment or ongoing therapy, the cost depends a lot on your personal insurance plan. While the actual monetary numbers differ, the value of a physical therapist when it comes to acute or chronic back pain cannot be understated. Taking medication or using special creams costs a lot with no end in sight. Surgery not only costs a lot upfront but also carries the risk of additional problems in the future. Also, you have a much greater risk of missing more work if you go that route from the start.
Physical therapy provides ongoing help in an affordable way that usually does not impact your ability to do your job and maintain your income. Insurance reimbursement is common with a referral, but even out-of-pocket expenses become manageable when you regain a pain-free or reduced-pain lifestyle you can enjoy.