Q. Who can experience back pain and why?
A. Anyone can experience back pain. In the younger population, back pain is most often caused by injuries such as muscle strains, fractures or disc herniations. In the older population, arthritis and degenerative changes associated with aging are the most common causes.
Q. What is more serious: lower or upper back pain?
A. Both can be equally serious, but usually back pain is due to a benign cause such as a muscle or ligament strain. More serious causes are rare, but include cancer, systemic inflammatory conditions, large disc herniations that compress the spinal cord and fractures.
Q. When should someone seek treatment for back pain?
A. Most episodes of back pain are self-limited and improve on their own. When improvement is not seen within two to three weeks or if the back pain is accompanied by leg pain and/or neurological changes such as numbness or loss of bladder/bowel control, treatment should be sought.
Q. In general, what are the different treatment options for back pain?
A. Depending on the cause of the pain, treatment options vary widely. The most important factor in the treatment of back pain is determining the source of the pain. Many different structures can cause similar symptoms. Treatment may include rest, ice or heat, physical therapy, anti-inflammatories, pain medications, muscle relaxants, chiropractic adjustments, massage, focal injections and rarely surgery.
Q. What are tips to prevent back pain?
A. Probably the most preventable cause of back pain is the muscle strain injury that occurs with improper lifting. When lifting a heavy object from the floor, one should use his or her legs by squatting and not bending completely at the waist. Objects should be held close to the body and twisting motions with the spine should be avoided.
Nearly everyone will have at least one episode of back pain in his or her life, so do not be surprised when it occurs. It will likely improve with simple treatment such as relative rest, ice and the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. Medical advice should be sought if improvement is not seen within a week or two.