Back pain is a common health problem that many people experience. If you spend a lot of time at your desk, or if you’ve ever hurt your back in a fall, it’s likely that you’ve experienced some back pain. In fact, eight out of 10 Americans have back pain at some point in their lives. But when is back pain a sign of something more serious?
Back pain can be caused by a number of health problems. Back pain can also be a symptom of multiple underlying conditions. Here are some of the most common medical issues caused by back pain:
Back injuries are the most common cause of acute back pain. Back injuries include sprains, spasms and spinal fractures. Short-term pain and back aches could be the result of a back injury.
A herniated disk is also a common cause of back pain. Our spinal disks are filled with a jelly-like substance that acts as a cushion between the vertebrae and helps keep the vertebrae in place. When one of these disks ruptures, it’s called a herniated disk. When a herniated disk occurs in the lower region of the spine, the disk can leak or press against the nerves, which contributes to back pain.
Pain or numbness in your back, hip, buttocks, legs or feet could be a sign of a herniated disk. Tell your doctor about your back pain so that they can administer a physical exam or do an imaging test. Depending on how bad the pain is, someone with a herniated disk might need treatment, such as prescription pain medication, physical therapy, steroid injections or surgery.
Degenerative disc disease
When a spinal disc begins to deteriorate between the vertebrae, this is known as degenerative disc disease. As you age, some disc degeneration is natural. However, traumatic injuries and wear-and-tear caused by high impact sports can also lead to disk tearing, inflammation and soreness.
Symptoms of degenerative disc disease include:
- Feeling numbness, pain, tingling or weakness in the back, buttocks, thighs or legs
- Pain that is nagging, severe or disabling
- Pain exacerbated by sitting, bending or lifting
- Pain subsides when walking, moving around or changing positions when lying down
- Pain that comes in waves, lasting for a couple of days to a few months
Treatment for degenerative disc disease includes physical therapy, heat and cold therapy, medication and surgery.
Many people don’t necessarily know that arthritis can affect the spine and lower back. Arthritis (inflammation of the joints) is commonly associated with knees and hands, but it can also cause back pain.
The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which typically occurs after age 40. Osteoarthritis often accompanies degenerative disc disease, in that the joints where the vertebra connect can also break down. Symptoms of osteoarthritis include lower back pain (which can spread down your legs), or neck pain that spreads from the shoulder. This type of pain usually hurts more in the morning and during physical activities, especially when twisting or bending.
If your arthritis-related back pain does not get better in time, talk to your doctor about your symptoms.
Osteoporosis is another hidden cause of back pain. Millions of Americans suffer from osteoporosis, which involves bones that become weaker over time, making them more susceptible to breaks.
There are several risk factors of osteoporosis, including:
- Getting older (aging)
- Having a thin frame or low bone density
- Some medications may increase one’s risk or osteoporosis
Until they break a bone, some people don’t have any symptoms of osteoporosis. A bone mineral density test can confirm whether or not you have osteoporosis. Ask your doctor if they recommend that you take the test.
Well before osteoporosis occurs, you can take proactive steps to strengthen your bones. Quit smoking, get regular exercise and adopt a diet rich in calcium, vitamin D and protein. All of these health practices could decrease your risk of osteoporosis. However, make sure to check with your doctor before you start taking calcium or vitamin D supplements.
Back pain can actually be caused by kidney stones. Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals or salts that form in the kidney, with calcium stones being the most common. Large kidney stones may cause back pain or pain on one’s side.
The signs of kidney stones include vomiting, smelly or bloody urine, high fever or experiencing a burning sensation while urinating. A urologist can determine if you have kidney stones by testing your urine or blood, or performing an x-ray of your abdomen or doing a CT scan.
When it comes to back pain, don’t try to self-medicate or ignore the pain. Back pain could be a sign of an undiagnosed health condition, for which you can get treatment.
At OrthoONE, our dedicated doctors and physicians are here to help. In many cases, chronic back pain is treatable. Talk to one of our health providers about back pain, so that we can aid you in improving your condition and assist you in leading a happier, healthier lifestyle.