85% to 90% of people in the United States will suffer from back pain at some time during their natural lives. Back pain is the second most common reason people visit their family doctors (following upper respiratory infections). On any given day, almost two percent of the entire United States work force is disabled by back pain. In people under 40 years of age, back pain is the most common reason for the inability to perform daily tasks. It also is the direct cause of exuberant health care expenses from $20 to $30 billion, yearly.
Pain that primarily affects the back should be distinguished from a spinal condition that results in mostly leg pain, a condition commonly called sciatica. Typically, sciatica is the result of a “pinched nerve” in the spinal column. In most cases, the cause of the sciatica is clearly defined; for example, a disc problem or arthritis. The cause of an episode of back pain, on the other hand, often is more difficult to pinpoint, and may be related to the discs, joints, or soft tissue supports (muscles, ligaments and tendons).
What is acute back pain?
Acute back pain refers to a brief, sudden episode of pain. Most people recover from acute back pain within two weeks with minimal treatment. Using over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (Advil), and resuming normal activities as the pain permits are simple and effective treatments for most people with acute back pain.
What is chronic, on-going back pain?
Most back pain is relieved within a few days to a couple of weeks with simple treatment. When back pain lingers beyond four weeks – which is chronic, persistent back pain — further medical evaluation is required. This evaluation focuses on a careful assessment of the patient’s medical history and a thorough physical examination to identify, if possible, a precise cause of the pain. In rare cases, cancer or an infection is found. More commonly, back pain is related to the spinal joints, spinal discs, or supporting muscles in the back.
What causes your back pain?
Back strain is the top cause (85 percent of cases) of back pain in the United States.
Other causes of back pain include:
• Disc herniation – A herniated disc is a rupture or tear of the cartilage that surrounds the vertebral discs. Pressure from the vertebrae above and below the affected disc squeezes the cushioning substance (nucleus pulposus) out of the disc. The nucleus pulposus can press against spinal nerve roots. This can cause severe leg pain and may cause nerve damage if not treated properly.
• Osteoarthritis/spinal stenosis – This is characterized by the constriction or narrowing of the vertebral canal, the space that surrounds the spinal column.
• Ankylosing spondylitis – Ankylosing spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory disease that first affects the spine and adjacent structures. As the disease progresses, vertebrae will fuse together. This disease has a strong hereditary tendency and primarily affects men under 30 years of age.
• Spondylolisthesis – Spondylolisthesis is the partial forward movement (dislocation) of one vertebra over the one below it. Usually, the fifth lumbar vertebra is dislocated over the first sacral vertebra.
• Infection (less than 1 percent of cases)
• Cancer (less than 1 percent of cases)
• Fracture (small, slight break)
• Trauma – An injury due to an accident or fall may cause a fracture or muscle strain.
• Non-spinal causes — Non-spinal causes of low back pain include abdominal aortic aneurysms, kidney stones, infection, or perforating stomach ulcer.
How is back pain diagnosed?
Evaluating the patient’s medical history often is the doctor’s most powerful diagnostic tool. The doctor asks a series of questions to help identify possible causes of the back pain. The questions may focus on lifestyle factors, such as where you live, what type of work you do, and what activities or hobbies you enjoy; when your pain began; where your pain is located and what effect it has had on your daily activities; and whether your pain has responded to any treatment. The doctor also will ask about your medical, surgical, family, and social history.
Additional testing – X-rays, MRI/CT scans, EMGs, and lab tests – are necessary in a small number of cases. For example, the MRI provides little information about the condition of the ligaments, muscles and tendons. However, it may demonstrate common degenerative, (wear and tear), changes in the discs or joints in the spine. If the pain is caused by a neurological change or trauma, or if the patient has a persistent fever, is losing weight, has numbness or weakness or loss of bowel or bladder control, one or more of these diagnostic tests may be done immediately.
How is back pain treated by Laser Pain Care?
Most back pain can be successfully treated with conservative (non-surgical) measures. Conservative treatment includes activity (standing, walking, working) as tolerated, acetaminophen (non-aspirin over-the-counter pain reliever), and/or an anti-inflammatory medication, and cold packs to diminish swelling and pain. Usually, the pain will subside within four to seven days. If there is no improvement after five to seven days, contact Laser Pain Care for Class 1V, non-invasive laser treatments! FREE Consultations.