Back pain — overview of causes and treatments
Many different issues can result in neck or back pain. Some pain involves strains and sprains of muscles or ligaments while other discomfort relates directly to the vertebrae, discs and joints of the spinal column. Some back pain is the result of injury but it also often results from degenerative conditions or illness. Regardless of the cause, neck and back pain can dramatically affect your quality of life, but the sooner you start treatment, the better your chance of long-term pain relief can be.
What causes back pain?
Back pain may originate in the muscles and ligaments of the back, but more severe and chronic pain is often related to a condition affecting the spinal column. These conditions include:
- Herniated disc. A herniated disc is a rupture of a spinal disc typically caused by natural aging combined with the stresses of everyday movement. Back pain and leg pain can result when herniated disc material pushes on one of the nerves. A herniated disc in the lumbar region can affect the nerves that run from the spinal cord to the legs. Compression or inflammation of spinal nerve roots can cause radiculopathy — a sharp, shooting pain traveling down the lower back, buttocks or leg.
- Degenerative disc disease. As the body ages, the water and protein content of the affected cartilage changes. This change results in weaker, more fragile and thin cartilage. Because both the outer ring of the discs and the spinal joints are partly composed of cartilage, these areas are subjected to natural degeneration. The gradual breakdown of the spinal discs is referred to as degenerative disc disease.
- Bone spurs. Also called osteophytes, bone spurs can be found in areas affected by arthritis such as the spinal joints. The body’s production of osteophytes is an attempt to stop the motion of the arthritic joint and counteract the degenerative process. A bone spur may cause constriction of the passageways through which the nerve roots exit the spinal canal. Common symptoms include pain, numbness, burning and a feeling of pins-and-needles in the extremities below the affected spinal nerve root. Motor symptoms include muscle spasm, cramping, weakness or loss of muscular control in a part of the body.
- Spinal stenosis. This is the narrowing of the spinal canal caused by a piece of bone, ligament, damaged disc material or other displaced or inflamed tissue. Symptoms generated by spinal stenosis may include weakness in extremities below the narrowing. Symptoms typically develop and increase with age.
- Spinal osteoarthritis. Many neck and back conditions are caused by a degenerative spine. With the passage of time, the cartilage within facet joints wears, roughens, and may even be totally lost. Osteoarthritis of the facet joints is the result. Facet joint arthritis is often called spinal osteoarthritis or simply spinal arthritis. General breakdown of these facet joints can make everyday movements like playing tennis, sitting at a desk or turning your head to check for traffic, stiff and painful.
Back pain treatments
In most cases, it is best to begin treating back pain using conservative methods. Below are some conservative therapies that should be tried before a more involved approach, such as a spinal surgery, is considered:
- Prescription or over-the-counter pain medication
- Mild exercise and other strength-building activities
- Physical therapy
- Hot and cold compresses
- Chiropractic adjustments
- Spinal injections
- Holistic treatments such as yoga or acupuncture
For some patients, these conservative treatments may offer enough relief that they can return to their daily lives without surgery. Other patients may not find these therapies effective and consider spine surgery. If you find yourself in this latter category, Laser Spine Institute may be able to help. We specialize in minimally invasive decompression and minimally invasive stabilization procedures that can address some causes of back pain, such as the ones detailed above. These outpatient procedures can help you find relief from your back pain without the risks and lengthy recovery associated with traditional open back surgery.^