Most people will experience at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime that will result in a missed workday. Dealing with back issues are a common problem that affects up to 70 percent of the population in industrialized countries.
There are numerous causes of back pain. Some episodes are due to a lifetime of bad habits, while others are the result of an accident, muscle strain or sports injury.
If you’re living with back issues and not sure how to move forward, here’s some expert advice on ways to find relief.
What to look for
The symptoms of back pain can look different from one person to the next, but they commonly include:
- Persistent aching or stiffness anywhere along the spine, from the base of the neck to the tail bone.
- Sharp, localized pain in the neck, upper back or lower back, especially after lifting heavy objects or engaging in other strenuous activity.
- Chronic ache in the middle or lower back, especially after sitting or standing for extended periods.
- Pain that radiates from your back to your buttocks, down your leg and into your calf and toes.
- Pain that worsens when you bend, lift, stand or walk.
Anyone can develop back pain, but there are factors that might put you at greater risk. Some include:
- Age. Back issues are more common as you get older.
- Lack of exercise. Weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen might lead to back issues.
- Excess weight. Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
- Diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to it.
- Improper lifting. Using your back instead of your legs can lead to pain.
When to see a doctor
In mild cases of back pain, many people see improvement by resting, icing and taking anti-inflammatory medications. Sometimes it even improves with increased activity. If your pain continues to linger after a few weeks with no improvement, you should be evaluated by a physician.
If you start to feel numbness or weakness radiating down your buttocks or legs, these are signs that require evaluation by a spine specialist. If the pain radiates into both lower extremities and is associated with bowel or bladder incontinence or numbness in the genital area, it requires an emergent evaluation.
How to move forward with back pain
Most of the time, back pain resolves on its own. However, some cases require a more advanced treatment approach. Surgery is a last resort treatment that’s usually reserved for structural abnormalities, such as a tumor, infection or fracture (trauma), that haven’t responded to conservative treatment with medicines and therapy.
Your physician will look for important clues to diagnose the source of your back issues. Conditions such as adult degenerative spine disease typically need to be associated with neurologic signs or symptoms for surgery to be considered. They’ll also help determine whether the pain is provoked by activity, standing and walking, or even sitting. Each of these clues suggests different pathologies.
While surgery might seem daunting, procedures like lumbar disc herniation or degenerative spondylolisthesis are minimally invasive procedures that can be treated on an outpatient basis.
Our spine specialists at Campbell Clinic have world-class training and experience that can accurately diagnose back problems and address pain. If you’re suffering from back pain, schedule an appointment with a physician today.