Oh! My aching back! According to thegoodbody.com (Feb., 2019) “approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives.” That’s A LOT of back pain. And until you experience back pain, you have no idea how much you use your back for everything
The most common cause of back pain begins with a slipped disk, also known as a “herniated nucleus pulposus” (HNP).
Slipped disks can happen anywhere in the spine. The most common areas are the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae (L4, L5) in the back and the 5th, 6th, and 7th cervical vertebrae (C5, C6, C7) in the neck. When this happens in the lumbar area, you have low back pain. When this happens in the cervical area, you have neck pain. When medical professionals begin looking for slipped disks, they typically look through the possible cause, such as a strain, trauma, degeneration (eroding away), weakness, or heavy lifting that can damage the back and the neck ligaments.
The assessment is typically centered around the lower back area, which can cause short-term, or long-term low back pain. Lower back pain doesn’t always stay where it started. It can radiate to your buttocks and even down the back of the legs. It is not uncommon for people with this condition to experience numbness and weakness in their legs and possibly into the feet, so walking can even be painful.
When the cervical (neck) vertebrae are involved, the symptoms are very different. Healthcare providers look for stiffness in the neck, numbness in the arms, weakness, and possible tingling in the fingers and hands. If the pain moves down the arms and into the hands, you may have a slipped disk in your neck.
Finding the Cause of Back Pain
When your healthcare provider is trying to figure out the cause of back-pain, they will perform a physical examination, and possibly a series of physical tests. These tests may consist of basic tendon reflex ability, EMG x-ray, cerebral spinal fluid tests, MRI, or CT scans. The results of these tests may be compared to results from previous tests to determine if there are any structural or inflammatory changes. Using EMG scans, your doctor may be able to determine whether there are spinal nerves involved in the irritating factor. X-rays can be used to determine if there is any narrowing or expansion in the disk space. A myelogram may be used to determine whether there is any compression of the spinal cord. This is typically performed in the case where a patient reports numbness of the hands or feet.
How Back Pain is Treated
At the first sign of back injury, your healthcare provide will typically provide pain relief management. This allows the patient some comfort while your provider determines the reason for the pain. The pain management regimen will depend on the patient’s history, other medications you may be taking, and other factors. It’s a good idea to increase your fiber intake because some medications can lead to constipation.
Additional treatment methods will focus on symptomatic relief. Using hot pads, hot wet compresses, and at times, cold therapy may be recommended. NSAID medications may be used to reduce inflammation to gain control of any compression on nerves and muscle systems. Muscle relaxers may be prescribed in situations where muscle spasms are involved, or degenerative muscle disorders are involved.
Whatever treatment is recommended, it’s important to follow the directions and recommendations of your healthcare provider.
~Until next time! Dr. JB Kirby