Acute and chronic back pain

Acute back pain and chronic back pain describe two separate categories of back pain but both can interfere with your life, including work, time with family, favorite activities or even just a good night’s sleep.

Acute back pain refers to pain that has a sudden onset but also lasts a short period of time. While acute back pain can be an intense, sharp and shooting pain, it generally lasts a few days or a few weeks. Causes of acute pain might be a car accident, sports injury or sleeping in an awkward position.

Chronic back pain is generally considered to be pain that lasts more than three months. There can be many causes of this, including aging, injury or an acute condition that has not improved. The pain can be dull or sharp and may potentially include other symptoms like tingling, numbness and weak muscles depending on the cause.

Causes of acute and chronic pain

Acute or chronic back pain will affect the majority of people at some point in their lives. Often, chronic low back pain will begin to surface in middle age and will cause individuals to miss days from work. There are, however, a variety of treatment options available so that the discomfort of back pain symptoms does not have to be a way of life. A great first step to relieving acute or chronic back pain is to educate yourself about spinal anatomy and conditions that can affect it.

Our cervical (upper), thoracic (middle) and lumbar (lower) spinal regions are made up of 24 stacked individual vertebrae. Each vertebra is separated from the ones above and below by a padded disc and linked by spinal joints. The discs absorb tension and stress from the daily activities our necks and backs endure while the joints allow the vertebrae to move smoothly against each other. As we age, however, these parts begin to wear out after years of enduring pressure and movement. This can lead to acute or chronic back pain by causing conditions like a herniated disc, bulging disc, bone spurs and arthritis.

Location and treatment of symptoms

Acute and chronic back pain and related symptoms also depend on the location of the spine where the condition occurs:

  • Lower back pain. Disc damage in the lumbar region of the spine can affect nerves that control sensation in the legs, buttocks and feet. You may experience pain that shoots down one leg, called sciatica, due to pressure on the sciatic nerve in the lower back.
  • Middle back pain. Patients may feel pain in the abdomen and chest because the middle vertebrae attach directly to the ribs.
  • Upper back pain. The cervical region of the spine encompasses the upper neck and back. Damage to a cervical vertebra can result in pain, tingling or loss of feeling in the neck, shoulders, arms and hands.

Visit your doctor for a diagnosis of any back pain that does not go away after a few days. For acute back pain, doctors will recommend conservative treatments like rest, ice and over-the-counter medication in all but the most severe cases. Similarly, if back pain is chronic, doctors will attempt to exhaust conservative treatments like physical therapy and epidural steroid injections before exploring surgical options.

If you are considering surgery for chronic pain but have concerns about the risks of traditional, hospital-based procedures, reach out to Laser Spine Institute. Our minimally invasive outpatient spine surgery uses muscle-sparing techniques to offer patients a shorter recovery time^ with less risk of infection than traditional procedures.

Contact us today for your no-cost MRI review* to find out if you may be a candidate for minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute.