Back pain affects about 80 percent of the U.S. population and accounts for about $50 billion annually in U.S. health care costs. Back pain is a leading cause for missed work, especially among those 50 and older. The primary cause of back pain is a strained muscle or a sprained ligament, both of which typically heal over time. Back pain can usually be managed through conservative measures such as rest, over-the-counter pain medication, application of ice or heat pads, and/or physical therapy.
Degenerative Spine Conditions
In addition to muscle strains or ligament sprains, back pain can be caused by degenerative spine conditions. The cervical (neck) and lumbar (lower back) regions of the spine are more susceptible to degenerative conditions than the thoracic (middle back) region. This is because the vertebrae in the neck and lower back are exposed to daily wear and tear associated with spine movements, whereas the thoracic region is protected from extreme motion by the rib cage.
The degenerative conditions that commonly produce back pain and result in dysfunction are:
- Arthritis of the spine – the degeneration of cartilage that lubricates the joints of the spine, usually a natural part of the aging process; it’s also called osteoarthritis or spondylosis.
- Degenerative disc disease – the loss of water content and elasticity within the intervertebral discs, which cushion and connect the vertebrae.
- Spondylolisthesis – the anterior/posterior movement of one vertebra over another. Causes of this condition include developmental abnormalities, trauma, and joint and/or disc deterioration.
Arthritis of the spine can prompt the body to produce bone spurs, or osteophytes. Osteophytes are caused by calcification of ligament or tendon attachment points which then ossify. Osteophytes may then impinge upon nerves.
Degenerative disc disease can lead to a bulging disc. Bulging is caused by a weakening and protrusion of the outer disc wall and may reduce space needed for neural tissue. The seepage of gel-like material from the disc nucleus into the spinal canal through a tear in the outer disc wall is known as spinal disc herniation. Herniated disc material may impinge upon neural tissue.
All of these abnormalities expose nearby nerves and the spinal cord to possible compression, which can produce neck or back pain as well as tingling, numbness or muscle weakness.
Treatment for Back Pain
The symptoms associated with nerve compression normally can be managed using conservative treatment such as physical therapy, prescription pain medication and behavior modification. If chronic pain persists despite weeks or months of conservative treatment, a physician might recommend surgery as an option. Contact Laser Spine Institute to learn how a minimally invasive outpatient procedure can help correct these conditions without extensive open spine surgery.