Back pain is a common problem that can range from annoying to debilitating for the people who deal with it. At some point, 80 percent of adults will experience back pain, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It affects men and women equally, the NIH reports. It can lead to loss of work and even disability.
If you suffer from back pain you may feel like it's something they just have to live with — many people mistakenly believe that. In reality, there are often courses of treatment that can get you back to your daily routine, and many of them are outpatient therapies.
The symptoms of back pain
Many people seek medical help with pain in their low backs, pain in their legs or numbness and tingling. Other symptoms include:
- Sharp pain
- Radiating leg pain
- Difficulty bending, lifting or walking due to pain
If you have back pain, you may also have difficulty with daily activities — including work — due to your symptoms.
Have you had an injury that affected your back? Or have you had chronic back issues that are becoming worse over time? Both situations are quite common.
The causes of back pain
Sometimes the origin of back pain is obvious — especially in cases where you have an injury that resulted in immediate discomfort. Other times, the cause of the pain may not be apparent, such as when it develops slowly over time.
Some causes of back pain include:
- Strains in muscles or ligaments
- Disks that are bulging or ruptured
- Arthritis of the spine
- Skeletal conditions
An orthopedic specialist will be able to determine what's causing your back pain.
Diagnosing and treating back pain
Your orthopedic specialist may use several diagnostic methods to determine the cause of your condition. These may include:
- Physical exam
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Electromyography (EMG)
X-rays can help determine whether you might have a fracture, degenerative condition, curvature of the spine or tumor.
MRIs create a detailed picture of the spine and help determine whether the soft tissues surrounding the spine are causing the pain. It may uncover injuries or changes to the spine.
EMG is an electrical test can help figure out if nerve cells and muscles — or the communication between them — are to blame for your pain.
Treatments for back pain
Once your condition is diagnosed, you may be prescribed several options for treatment. These could include anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy, home exercises or epidural steroid injections.
In some cases, over-the-counter medication and home care directed by your doctor may be all you need for a quick recovery. In other cases, orthopedic physical therapy may be needed. Through manipulation and exercise, physical therapy can help improve your strength and retrain how you move in order to reduce pain and improve range of motion.
Epidural steroid injections for pain relief would likely be used in combination with physical therapy for lasting relief.
In rare cases, spinal surgery may been needed for back pain. To ensure that surgery is a success, you'll have to follow all your orthopedic team's instructions for how to prepare and what to do in the post-operative recovery period. One of the reasons that surgery can be unsuccessful in improving back pain for patients in the long-term is that patients fail to comply with treatment directives after surgery. That may include ramping back to regular activities and rehabilitation exercises.