Causes and pain management
What is back pain?
Back pain is a very common medical problem in the United States. It can range from a dull, constant ache to sudden, sharp pain that makes mobility difficult. Back pain can develop slowly over time or come on suddenly. Anyone can suffer from back pain, but there are some factors that increase your risk:
- Age — back pain is more common the older we get.
- Poor physical fitness — back pain is more common in those who are overweight or obese.
- Heredity — our genes play a role in some causes of back pain, such as certain types of arthritis.
- Your job — if your job requires a lot of physical activity, such as lifting, pushing, or pulling, it is very common over time to experience back pain. If you have a desk job and do not have good posture, you may also have back pain.
- Smoking — if you're a smoker, your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back. Smoker's cough may also be a cause of back pain.
There are two types of back pain:
- Acute — a pain that hits you suddenly after an accident such as falling or lifting a heavy item. Acute pain is the most common type of back pain and typically lasts no longer than six weeks.
- Chronic — a pain that may come on slowly or quickly, and lasts a significantly long time, generally longer than three months.
Common causes of back pain
As we age, we may experience back pain due to various reasons, including:
- Mechanical breakdowns — disk breakdown, spasms of the back, tense muscles, ruptured disks, and injuries from sprains, fractures, accidents, and falls
- Medical conditions & diseases — scoliosis (the curving of the spine), spondylolisthesis (a bone in the spine slips out of place), arthritis, spinal stenosis (narrowing of spinal column), kidney stones, pregnancy, infections, and more
If you or a loved one demonstrates any of these signs, please consult with your primary care doctor.
Back pain management
Treatment for back pain generally will depend on how long your pain lasts and the level of pain you are experiencing. There are different imaging tests for lower-back pain. Click here to learn more.
For acute (short-term) back pain, it is recommended that taking a pain reliever along with getting up and moving around to ease the stiffness will help to get you back to doing your regular activities.
For chronic (long-term) back pain, there are several non-surgical options recommended before surgery is suggested.
- Hot or cold packs to help soothe sore, stiff backs
- Exercises to help ease chronic pain — going to a physical therapist can be helpful
- Medication — pain relievers can be taken orally or applied to the skin
- Alternative therapies such as yoga, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage