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What is Back Pain?

Back pain or backache is the pain felt in the back that may originate from damage to the muscles, nerves, bones, joints or other structures in the spine. Back pain is one of the most common medical problems experienced by most people at some time in their life. It can be acute, usually lasting from a few days to a few weeks, or chronic, lasting for more than three months.

Characteristics of Back Pain

Back pain can occur as a dull constant pain or a sudden sharp pain. It may be confined to one area or radiate to other areas such as the arm and hand, upper or lower back, and leg or foot.

Related Symptoms

Other than pain you may experience weakness, numbness or tingling in your arms or legs caused by damage to the spinal cord.

Risk Factors for Back Pain

Athletes participating in sports such as skiing, basketball, football, ice skating, soccer, running, golf or tennis are at a greater risk of developing back pain. During these sports activities, the spine needs to bear more stress, take up more pressure, undergo twisting and turning, as well as bodily impact. This may cause strain on the back that can result in back pain. Athletes are at a high risk of back pain both from trauma and from overuse injuries, especially in sports requiring hyperextension.

What causes back pain?

Back pain is the most common of musculoskeletal complaints, ranging from a mild twinge to excruciating, immobilizing agony. There are numerous reasons why you might experience back pain, including:

  • Muscle strains
  • Arthritis
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Herniated discs
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal tumors
  • Bone spurs
  • Spinal instability
  • Radiculopathy
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Vertebral compression fractures

In many cases, the reason you have back pain is that a bone or other tissue is pressing on the nerves coming away from your spinal cord. These nerves exit the spine through holes called foramen in the vertebrae.

A slight shift in alignment, an overgrowth of bone, thickened ligaments, or simple inflammation can compress the nerve and cause back pain.

How is the cause of back pain diagnosed?

Diagnosis begins with a physical examination, a review of your medical and family history, and a discussion about your current health, symptoms, and lifestyle.

Following this initial assessment, you might need to undergo diagnostic imaging tests such as X-rays, an MRI scan, or a CT scan to determine the exact cause of your back pain and how much tissue damage it’s causing.

One of the key diagnostic tools for nerve-related back pain is electromyography (EMG), usually done in combination with nerve conduction velocity (NCV) tests.

These tests look at how well your nerves are functioning. They evaluate the strength of the messages sent to your muscles and the electrical activity in the nerves. The results provide valuable information about the cause and nature of your back pain.

How is back pain treated?

Treatments for back pain might vary somewhat depending on the cause of your discomfort. However, physical therapies and medication typically form the foundation of your recovery from back pain.

You might need additional treatments such as epidural steroid injections, nerve blocks, spinal cord stimulation, and radiofrequency ablation. If your back pain fails to improve, surgery might resolve your back pain.

What kind of surgery might I need for back pain?

There are numerous different surgeries that the doctors at Texas Neuro Spine could perform to help with severe, long-term back pain. Some of these include:

  • Posterior lumbar interbody fusion (PLIF)
  • Anterior lumbar interbody fusion (ALIF)
  • Transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (TLIF)
  • Extreme lateral interbody fusion (XLIF)
  • Kyphoplasty
  • Microdiscectomy
  • Artificial disc replacement
  • Laminotomy