Identifying Back Pain
Back pain is common and usually is not serious. Back pain usually goes away gradually with rest and over-the-counter pain relievers.
Acute back pain, which comes on suddenly, can last from a few days to one to three months. Acute back pain most often is caused by trauma to the lower back or by a medical condition such as arthritis. Such trauma could be caused by a work or sports injury, working in the house or garden, a sudden jolt from a fall or a crash, or from other stress on spinal bones and tissues.
Chronic back pain is that which lasts longer than three months.
Causes of back pain include:
- Sprains and strains, the most common causes
- Intervertebral disk degeneration, another common cause
- Herniated or ruptured disks
- Radiculopathy, which is caused by compression, inflammation and/or injury to a spinal nerve root
- Sciatica, which is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve
- Spondylolisthesis, in which a vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place, pinching nerves leaving the spinal column
- Traumatic injury, such as a work or sports injury, a fall or a crash
- Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column
- Skeletal irregularities, including scoliosis, lordosis and other congenital spinal anomalies
- Underlying conditions such as pregnancy, kidney stones, infections, osteoporosis, endometriosis, fibromyalgia or inflammatory joint diseases such as arthritis, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or spondylitis.
Treatment for back pain
BayCare Clinic Neurological Surgeons offers treatment for back pain. Our neurosurgeons also treat some medical conditions that can cause back pain, including herniated disks, spinal stenosis, spinal instability, spinal injuries and spinal fractures.
Treatment for back pain depends on the type of back pain and the cause of the back pain.
A first visit for back pain usually consists of a physical exam and a review of symptoms. Tests usually are ordered only if your symptoms or your medical history suggest a tumor, infection, fracture or serious nerve disorder. Such tests may include X-rays, a CT scan, an MRI or blood tests.
When to seek treatment for back pain
Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within two weeks. If not, see your doctor.
In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Seek immediate care if your back pain:
- Causes new bowel or bladder problems
- Is accompanied by fever
- Occurs after a fall or injury
Call your health care provider if you experience:
- Severe back pain that does not improve with rest
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
- Pain that spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee
- Back pain accompanied by unexplained weight loss
Also see your doctor if you start having back pain for the first time after age 50, or if you have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or alcohol or drug abuse.