Back pain can have many causes, and many times, back pain will resolve itself in two to four weeks with rest, ice and heat. In fact, 80 percent of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives, making back pain one of the most common reasons people visit back pain clinics or miss work.
While it is estimated that four out of five people will experience back pain at some point in their lives, back pain that lasts longer than a few weeks is not normal.
Back pain symptoms may include feelings of muscle ache, stabbing or shooting pain, stiff or limited flexibility in the back or lower back, inability to stand with proper posture and radiating pain down one or both legs.
Did you know that muscle related pain is one of the most common reasons for overall back pain? It is true. Muscle related pain can be caused by improper lifting techniques, overuse, poor posture or a sudden awkward movement or fall.
Spinal or Disc Problems
Bulging or Herniated Discs: Spinal discs are soft cushions between vertebra. Sometimes, the soft jelly like substance inside the disc can bulge out of place or rupture, putting pressure on the surrounding nerves causing back pain. Disc related back pain can be caused by an injury. Interestingly, some people who have bulging or herniated discs will never experience any back pain.
Sciatica refers to pain that stems from the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from the lower back down the back of each leg. Sciatica is not a disorder, but a symptom of another underlying problem, such as a spinal stenosis, a pinched/irritated nerve in the lower back or a herniated disc. Learn more about sciatica.
Other Painful Conditions
If you have spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, scoliosis, compression fractures, arthritis or osteoporosis you may also experience pain in the back. These back pain conditions can be treated with conservative, minimally invasive procedures.
There are a few factors that can increase your risk of developing back pain, such as: smoking, obesity, age, physical labor, sedentary work and depression.
Before your back pain appointment with your clinic doctor or back pain clinic specialist, take note of some important facts.
To help determine the cause of your back pain, your back pain clinic doctor or back pain specialist may ask you a lot of questions and ask for some diagnostic testing. Learn more about what to expect when you come to a MAPS clinic.
Some common diagnostic imaging includes:
X-Ray – an x-ray shows the alignment of the bones in your spine and whether you have any broken or arthritic bones that may be causing back pain. Always bring your x-ray images with you to a doctor appointment to help your provider understand your full history.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computerized tomography (CT) scans – These tests show images of bone, muscle, tissue, nerves, blood vessels, tendons and ligaments. These tests can show disc herniation, muscle tears, ligament problems and can help your clinic doctor or back pain specialist understand your back pain.
Nerve Studies – Electromyography (EMG) – Electromyography (EMG) is a test used to study nerve and muscle function. There are two parts to EMG testing; a nerve conduction study and a needle exam for muscle testing. The nerve conduction study involves stimulating the nerves at different points with small electric stimulation so their function can be measured. The needle exam involves inserting very fine needles into several muscles. These needles pick up both normal and abnormal electrical signals given off by a muscle.
The EMG can provide information about the extent of nerve and/or muscle injury and can give some indication as to whether the damage is reversible. An EMG may be performed when the patient has unexplained muscle weakness to distinguish if the problem is in the muscle or if it due to nerve disorders. The EMG can detect abnormal electrical activity of muscles and nerves that can occur in many diseases and conditions, including muscular dystrophy, muscle inflammation, pinched nerves, damage to nerves in the arms and legs (peripheral nerve damage), multiple sclerosis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are a number of treatment options that help reduce back pain, which include:
At MAPS back pain clinics, our clinic doctors and back pain specialist value the importance of an interdisciplinary approach. For those back pain treatments not offered by MAPS, we are able to refer you to other providers.