Everything You Need To Know About Back Pain: Symptoms, Treatment & More

Everything You Need To Know About Back Pain: Symptoms, Treatment & More

Reviewed By

Dr. Kshama Dhawan (MSc (Sports Therapy))

Muscle aches to shooting, burning, or stabbing pains can characterize back pain. Any region of the spine or back can cause discomfort, from mild to disabling.

What is Back Pain?: Overview

Back pain is a condition that affects a large number of people. There are mainly three types of back pain: cervical pain,  lower back pain and thoracic back pain. Cervical pain is the discomfort caused around the neck in the upper portion of the spine. It is generally caused by poor posture, straining of muscles around the neck, and other underlying conditions. Lower back pain is caused by problems with the muscles and ligaments in your lower spine. Whereas, thoracic back pain is caused by problems in the center of the spine, which can be due to injury or arthritis. 

Back pain is a frequent ailment with a wide range of symptoms depending on the reason. The pain can be subtle, acute, throbbing, stabbing, agonising, or burning in nature. It can be consistent or come and go, and it can get worse with exercise or lengthy periods of sitting.

Studying how pain is characterised can help you learn how to better manage it. Back pain is mainly categorised as acute and chronic back pain. 

Acute Back Pain appears out of nowhere, usually as a result of a specific injury. It can go away in a few days, but it can remain for up to six weeks. Acute pain is defined as pain that lasts shorter than 3 to 6 months or is caused by tissue damage. When pain lingers, it becomes more susceptible to external stimuli, raising the likelihood of chronic pain in the individual.

Chronic pain is a type of pain that develops gradually over time and can worsen. It's associated with pain that lasts nearly three months or occurs regularly for at least six months. Chronic back pain persists usually due to inadequate rehabilitation and weak muscles around the spine. Chronic pain is frequently not linked to detectable tissue damage or structural issues rather chronic back pain persists despite the absence of an obvious reason. 

Anatomy of the Back: Introduction

Back pain can impact people of all ages for a variety of reasons. Lower back soreness is more likely to develop as people age, due to variables such as previous profession and degenerative disc disease.

Strong bones, flexible ligaments and tendons, massive muscles, and extremely sensitive nerves make up the anatomy of the spine. It is meant to be both extremely strong and extremely flexible, allowing for mobility on multiple planes while protecting the highly sensitive nerve roots.

In our daily lives, most of us take this combination of strength, structure, and flexibility for granted until something goes wrong. When we suffer back pain, we want to know what's wrong and what we can do to get rid of it and avoid it from happening again.

The spine is mainly divided into four segments namely, the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and sacral spine. The cervical spine is made up of seven vertebrae and is the upper region of the spine (bones). The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae and is located in the middle of or at the center region of the spine. The lumbar spine refers to the bottom or lower part of the spine. The sacrum is a bone that makes up the back section of the pelvis and is located below the lumbar spine. This triangle-shaped bone connects the spine to the lower part of the body by fitting between the two halves of the pelvis.

What are the Potential Causes of Back Pain?

From your neck to your hips, backache can be felt anywhere throughout your spine. To get rid of your back pain symptoms, you'll need to find the cause behind it and the right remedy. Back pain can arise for a variety of reasons, all of which cannot be determined, here are a few common causes that result in back pain:

1. Anatomical Causes

A muscle, ligament, or tendon strain or sprain is the most common cause of neck pain. 

  • Injury in the cervical spine (neck): 

There is often a distinct anatomic problem with cervical pain that lasts longer than two weeks to three months, or with mostly arm pain, numbness, or tingling. A cervical herniated disc or foraminal stenosis squeezing a nerve in the neck, for example, causes pain that extends down the arm and potentially into the hands and fingers. Sitting in an incorrect position for prolonged hours might also be the reason for back pain around the neck.

  • Thoracic Back Pain (upper back pain): 

The thoracic spine protects the heart and lungs, which is essentially a sturdy cage. Because the upper back is not built for motion, it does not experience significant wear and tear or damage. Back pain can be extremely evident if the major back and shoulder muscles are irritated or if there is joint dysfunction in the upper back. Other problems, such as a thoracic herniated disc, are less prevalent, but they can happen.

  • Lumbar spine pain (lower back pain): 

The lower back has a lot more movement than the thoracic spine and bears the torso's weight, making it more vulnerable to injury. Muscle strain is responsible for the great proportion of occurrences of lower back pain. Whilst the muscle strain may not appear to be a major injury, it can cause considerable pain in the lower back. The fact of the matter is that soft tissues have a robust blood supply, which delivers nutrients to the wounded area, speeds up the healing process, and frequently relieves back pain.

  • Sacral pain:

The sacroiliac joints connect the sacrum to the iliac bones, which are part of the pelvis. Sacroiliac joint dysfunction is a term for pain in the sacrum that affects more women than men. The coccyx, or tailbone, is located at the base of the spine in the sacral region. Coccydynia is a type of tailbone pain that affects women more than men.

2. Lifestyle

Back pain might have a variety of causes that aren't related to an illness. Excessive exercise or lifting, lying down and extended sitting, sleeping in an awkward posture, or wearing a poorly fitted backpack are all examples of overuse. Lifestyle is one of the major causes of back problems and pain. 

We spend long hours on computer seats, slouching in bed while watching Television, and sitting or sleeping in poor posture, even though faulty posture (or an imbalance of body weight) is among the most common causes of back discomfort.

Long durations of sitting, however, are bad for your health and your spine. Sitting increases the strain on your spine, which can lead to degenerative disc disease and pinched nerves, causing back discomfort. Sitting for very long hours can also put pressure on your muscles and create back pain. As a result, taking regular breaks to walk and stretch your spine is essential.

Obesity is becoming a global issue. There is a link between persistent back discomfort and being overweight or obese, according to studies. Obesity puts additional stress and pressure on your body's joints. Obesity increases the risk for osteoarthritis, not only because it puts extra stress on the joints and spine. Osteoarthritis is a condition in which the cartilage between both the joints wears away, causing the bones to scrape against one another. This results in stiffness and discomfort. 

You're at risk for back discomfort if your job includes a lot of lifting, bending, and other repetitive activities. You're also in danger if your employment demands you to either stay seated or stand for long durations.

We all know that smoking is harmful to one's health and that smokers are more prone than nonsmokers to suffer from back discomfort. Nicotine inhibits blood circulation to the spine's discs, which is one cause. They may dry out, fracture, or burst due to this. Smoking also lowers the quantity of oxygen in the blood, depriving the tendons and ligaments in the back of proper sustenance. Accidental twists and strains that induce chronic pain are more likely if your back is unhealthy and weak.

3. Strain or Sprain

Back muscles and ligaments can be strained by repeated heavy work or an abrupt uncomfortable movement. Constant tension on your back might produce severe muscle spasms if you're ever in poor physical shape. Back discomfort is frequently caused by strain, stress, or injury. The following are some of the most common causes of back pain:

  • Muscles or ligaments that have been stretched

  • A spasm of the muscles

  • Injuries, fractures, or falls caused by muscular tension

  • Lifting something incorrectly or lifting something too heavy with a sudden and uncomfortable action.

4. Structural Problems

The spine is made up of interlocked bones that are placed on top of one another. The gaps between each vertebra are cushioned by discs, which are regions of tissue. Back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including disc injuries. These discs can sometimes bulge, herniate, or rupture. When this happens, nerves might get squeezed. Herniated discs are excruciatingly painful. Sciatica, or inflammation of the sciatic nerve, is caused by a bulging disc pushing on the nerve that runs from the back to your leg. Here are a few structural causes that might be the cause behind your back pain:

  • Ruptured discs: Disks cushion every vertebra in the spine. When a disc ruptures, it places more pressure on a nerve, resulting in back pain.

  • Bulging discs: A bulging disc can put greater pressure on a nerve in the same manner as a ruptured disc does.

  • Sciatica: A bulging or herniated disc pushing on the sciatic nerve causes sciatica, a severe and shooting pain that runs down the buttock and the back of the leg. Back pain is sometimes associated with leg discomfort, as well as numbness or tingling sensations. This is referred to as sciatica in medical terms. Leg pain is often the hardest portion of sciatica for most people, and they may seem to have little or no back pain at all. Discs are supposed to bulge so that we can move our spines around freely, but a bulge can sometimes 'grab' a nerve root and create discomfort that runs down the leg and foot.

  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis that affects the hips, lower back, and other joints. The area around the spinal cord might narrow in some circumstances. This medical issue is known as spinal stenosis.

  • An abnormal curve of the spine: If the spine bends unnaturally, back discomfort might follow.

  • Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and porous, increasing the risk of compression fractures.

  • Kidney: Back discomfort can be caused by kidney disorders such as stones or infections.

5. Mattress and Posture

Adopting a slumped sitting position while using computers might lead to increased back and shoulder difficulties over time. Back pain can also be caused by certain daily activities or poor posture. 

Moreover, mattresses are also responsible for back pain. Back pain can have a variety of causes, making it difficult to determine the source of your discomfort. There are, however, some telltale signs that your mattress is to a fault. When your backache starts, that's the first sign. If you have back discomfort when you first wake up but can stretch it away in 15-30 minutes, your mattress is probably doing more damage than good. It's also a symptom if you're waking up more frequently or tossing and turning in your sleep.

6. Any Other Underlying Condition

Back discomfort is sometimes associated with leg pain that begins after a few minutes of walking and improves fast when you sit down. This ailment is medically known as spinal stenosis. This can occur at any age or develop as we grow older. When anything presses on the little area in the center of the spine where the nerves lie, it causes problems. The spinal canal, also known as the nerve root canal, can be compressed by bone or ligament. Both legs are usually affected, however, one would be worse than the second. The discomfort typically goes away when you sit down to rest, and some individuals find that walking a little stooped helps them feel better. 

The major issue, similar to sciatica, is leg discomfort rather than back pain. In the vast majority of instances, neither sciatica nor spinal stenosis poses a substantial threat. However, if the signs are causing you significant distress and negatively impacting your quality of life, you should seek medical assistance and explore your options.

7. Joint Degeneration:

The bones, discs, and ligaments in our spine might gradually deteriorate as we get older. As part of the aging process, this occurs to all of us to some extent, but it doesn't have to be an issue, and not everyone will experience discomfort as a result of it. The discs in our spine thin down as we get older, and the gaps between the vertebrae shorten.

Osteophytes are little fragments of bone that occur at the margins of the vertebrae and facet joints. Degeneration and damage to the facet joints can cause the whole motion segment to become unstable. Nearby structures, namely the spinal nerves, muscles, and connective tissues, might be affected by segmental instability. Referred pain occurs when the discomfort from a facet is confined to the lower back.

Spondylosis is the medical word for this condition, which is quite identical to the changes that osteoarthritis causes in other joints. Spondylosis can be lessened by keeping the spine flexible and the muscles surrounding the spine and pelvis strong.

Everyone has various sleeping habits, making it difficult to locate the ideal mattress. Choose one that is neither too hard nor too soft. An excessively firm mattress may press on your pressure points, causing misalignment. Similarly, if your bed is excessively soft, it will cause your body to slump into it as you sleep, resulting in poor posture and pain. You should feel as if you're floating on air when you sleep on the correct mattress.

Symptoms of Back Pain

Back pain can be anything from a dull ache in the muscles to a shooting, searing, or stabbing pain. Furthermore, pain may travel down your leg or intensify when you bend, twist, lift, stand, or walk. Back pain symptoms, if caused by strain or abuse, are usually brief but might continue for days or even weeks. If back pain persists for more than three months, it is considered chronic.

  1. Throbbing, dull pain in the lower spine

  2. A piercing or shooting sensation that runs down the leg and into the foot

  3. The difficulty to stand straight without experiencing pain

  4. Restricted joint mobility and capacity to flex the spine

When To See A Doctor:

An aching or soreness anywhere in the back, and occasionally to the bottom towards the buttocks and legs, is the most common sign of back pain. Depending mostly on the nerves involved, some back problems might produce discomfort in other places of the body. The discomfort usually disappears without surgery, but if any of the following persons have it, they should consult a doctor:

  • Any major injury, such as strain and sprain from overuse, herniated disk, injury or twisted ligaments and tendons, spondylolisthesis, pinched nerve, etc.

  • Lower back pain and bowel difficulties are linked together if the pain feels a little mild. Pain can radiate from the back or abdomen if there is pressure in the colon or rectum. Back pain in the lower back may result from a trapped stool in your colon or rectum.

  • Backache that won't go away after lying down or resting.

  • Faecal incontinence, or the inability to control bowel motions.

  • Swelling in the back or inflammation of the spine.

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Discomfort does not improve with rest

Diagnosis

A doctor can usually identify back discomfort after asking about symptoms and completing a physical examination. Here are the major symptoms that need tests:

  • It appears that back discomfort is caused by an injury.

  • There might be an underlying issue that has to be addressed.

  • The discomfort lasts for a long time

Your back will be examined, and your abilities to sit, stand, walk, and lift your legs will be assessed. Your doctor may also ask you to score your severity on a scale of one to ten and discuss how well you're managing your discomfort. All of these examinations and tests can reveal the source of your discomfort, how well you can move before pain causes you to stop and whether you have muscular spasms. If your doctor suspects a specific ailment is affecting your back discomfort, he or she may request one or more of the following tests:

  1. X-ray: These scans reveal how your bones are aligned, as well as if you have arthritis or damaged bones. These pictures will not reveal any issues with your spinal cord, muscles, nerves, or discs on their own. In simple terms, X-rays can reveal bone alignment and identify arthritis or fractured bones, but they may miss injury to the spinal cord, muscles, discs, or nerves.

  2. CT scans or MRI: Herniated discs, as well as abnormalities with ligaments, muscles, tissue, tendons, bones, nerves, and blood vessels, can be discovered with these scans.

  3. Bone Scans: Bone scans can diagnose bone cancers or osteoporosis-related compression fractures. The tracer accumulates in the bones and, with the help of a special camera, lets the doctor spot bone abnormalities.

  4. EMG or Nerve Studies: The electrical impulses generated by your nerves and the reflexes of your muscles are measured using electromyography (EMG). This test can determine if nerve compression is the result of herniated discs or a narrowing of the vertebral column (spinal stenosis). The electrical impulses emitted by nerves in reaction to muscles are measured by electromyography or EMG.

Additionally, lack of clinical assessment is a major fault in the complete assessment process or diagnosis. Only assessing and treating based on the tests, MRI or computerized scans do not work the best or say appropriate. Analysing the range of motions and mobility is an essential part of the diagnosis.

Preventions for Back Pain

Following are a few measures that reduce the risk of developing back pain:

  • Regular exercise contributes to regeneration as well as body weight management. People can minimise their risk of back discomfort by engaging in one of two forms of exercise: 

A. Core-strengthening workouts develop the abdomen and back muscles, which serve to protect the back. 

B. Core flexibility, which includes the spine, hips, and upper legs, is improved by flexibility exercise.

  • People's weight and also where they carry it have an impact on their likelihood of acquiring back discomfort. Heavy suitcases, laptop carrying cases, luggage, and handbags can put undue tension on your neck and spine. Avoid overusing your joints.

  • Avoid smoking

  • Maintain a healthy diet that is full of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrients.

  • Examine and analyse your posture while sitting, lifting, or standing.

Treatment

Following are some treatment options to go for:

1. Physiotherapy: 

Physiotherapy is a technique that aids in the improvement of joint and muscle movement and function. It can aid in the reduction of back pain and the resumption of normal activities. It can also help in lowering the chances of re-injuring your back. Back pain is treated using a variety of treatments and procedures by physiotherapists. They also provide tips on how to take care of your back. 

Your physiotherapist will generally tell you how many visits you'll need and how often you'll need them after your first one. This will be determined by how severe your back pain is and how you're dealing with it. You may only require a single session, or your physiotherapist may suggest a series of physiotherapy treatments spread out over several months.

Your physiotherapist will also offer some tips on how to manage your back discomfort at home. This could include tips on how to enhance your posture and make sure your car seat or office chair is appropriately positioned. Physiotherapists use their hands to exert pressure on muscle tissues and joints to relieve back discomfort caused by poor posture, straining, or muscle or joint dysfunction. Manual therapy can help with both acute and chronic back pain.

2. OTC Medications

There are several over-the-counter medicines, topical creams, and more medications available that help in relieving the strain. 

FAQs

1. How does physiotherapy help back pain?

Ans: Physiotherapy is one of the most effective treatments that can be availed, it not only treats the cause rather it also reduces the chance of back pain occurring in the future.

2. How to treat back pain at home?

Ans: Availing online physiotherapy treatments, rest, and improvising healthy lifestyle changes are the most convenient yet effective ways to treat back pain at home.

3. What is the most common cause of back pain?

Ans: A sedentary lifestyle and bad posture is the most common cause of back pain.

4. How do I know if my back pain is serious?

Ans: Back pain is considered serious If there is sudden shooting pain, with various symptoms that are mentioned above. In such cases, consulting an expert is critical.

Conclusion:

Your spine plays a huge role in the structure of your body. Hence, It's no surprise that back problems are very common. Pain in the back can make people miss work and require medical treatment, and it is often distressing and debilitating. Various causes of back pain are already explained above, from serious injuries to strains. Most back pain improves after a month of at-home treatment and physiotherapy. However, back pain, on the other hand, is a complicated illness that affects everyone differently. Some might experience acute back pain while others might have chronic back pain. Therefore, relying on a few treatments consistently is the only way to avoid back pain.

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