How to Deal With Different Types of Back pain

Back pain is a painful and debilitating condition that affects millions of people worldwide. The symptoms vary from dull aches to sharp, shooting pains. The condition can severely impact an individual’s mobility, daily life and ability to perform basic tasks. Discover more about how to deal with back pain as Bloom explores the causes, diverse symptoms and range of solutions, from conservative treatments to surgical options for severe cases.

What are the symptoms of back pain?

Typical symptoms will vary widely depending on the underlying cause and severity of the condition.

However, some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Dull ache. Many people experience a persistent, dull ache in the affected area. This type of pain may be mild or moderate and can worsen with movement or if the individual undertakes certain types of activities.
  • Sharp or shooting pain. Back pain may manifest as a sharp, stabbing sensation that radiates to and from certain areas of the body. This type of pain can be intense and is usually reflective of nerve compression or damage.
  • Stiffness. This often comes with reduced flexibility in the spine or surrounding muscles. This stiffness is often more pronounced in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity.
  • Limited range of motion. Individuals with this type of ailment may find it difficult to bend, twist, or perform certain movements without experiencing discomfort or restriction.
  • Muscle spasms. Spasms or involuntary contractions of the muscles in the back can accompany pain and cause further discomfort.
  • Tenderness. The affected may feel tender or sensitive to touch, especially if there’s inflammation or muscle strain.
  • Numbness or tingling. If nerves are damaged or compressed, pain may be accompanied by sensations of numbness, tingling, or weakness in the legs or feet.
  • Pain aggravation. Back pain can worsen with specific movements, such as playing certain types of sports, lifting heavy objects, or sitting or standing for prolonged periods.

10 Common causes of back pain

Back pain is a complex condition. Multiple contributing factors can contribute, which range from temporary pain to severe spinal conditions. The most common contributing factors and conditions are: 

  1. Muscle strain. This is one of the most common causes of back pain. It occurs when muscles or ligaments in the back are stretched or torn due to improper lifting or poor posture. In this case, the problem should heal over time, given that the individual allows for adequate recovery time. 
  2. Herniated disc. The discs between the vertebrae of the spine can bulge or rupture, putting pressure on nearby nerves and causing pain. This can happen due to spinal degeneration or by straining the back. 
  3. Degenerative disc disease. As people age, the discs in the spine lose water content and elasticity, leading to decreased cushioning between the vertebrae. This results in pain and stiffness in the back.
  4. Spinal stenosis. This is a spinal condition that involves the narrowing of the spinal canal, which compresses the spinal cord and nerves, causing pain, numbness, and weakness in the back and legs. Spinal stenosis can be exacerbated by age-related conditions, like arthritis.
  5. Scoliosis. This is another spinal condition, that ranges in severity. It is characterised by an abnormal curvature of the spine, which causes severe back pain, stiffness, and uneven shoulders or hips. 
  6. Osteoporosis. Bone health decreases as people age. Osteoporosis is an age-related condition that can lead to compression fractures in the vertebrae, causing sudden and severe back pain. The condition is more common in women.
  7. Spondylitis: This is a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the spine, causing pain and stiffness, particularly in the lower back. It can also lead to the fusion of the vertebrae, reducing the range of mobility.
  8. Trauma or injury. Accidents, falls, or sports injuries can cause fractures, sprains, or strains in the back, leading to acute or chronic pain.
  9. Lifestyle factors. Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, and poor ergonomics can all contribute to back pain by putting undue stress on the spine or weakening the supporting structures.
  10. Arthritis. This can cause inflammation and degeneration of the joints in the spine. Conditions like osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can lead to stiffness, reduced mobility, and structural changes in the spine, resulting in pain and discomfort.

The risk factors of back pain

There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing back pain or back conditions. Some of these include:

  • Age. As people age, the spine undergoes natural degenerative changes, such as loss of disc elasticity and muscle strength, which increases the risk of spinal conditions like degenerative disc disease or spinal stenosis.
  • Poor posture. Continuous poor posture can, over time, strain the muscles and ligaments of the back, leading to pain and structural damage. 
  • Obesity. Excess weight puts added stress on the spine and supporting structures. This will increase an individual’s risk of developing conditions like herniated discs or osteoarthritis.
  • Lack of exercise. Leading a sedentary lifestyle and failing to maintain a regular exercise routine will weaken the muscles of the back and core, reducing spinal support and flexibility. This increases an individual’s susceptibility to incurring injuries and subsequent back pain. 
  • Lifting heavy objects. Jobs or basic household chores that involve moderate to heavy lifting can cause undue strain on the back and increase the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Smoking. This reduces blood flow to the spinal discs and inhibits the absorption of nutrients, contributing to accelerated disc degeneration and an increased risk of developing disc-related conditions. Discover more about how smoking is bad for your health. 
  • Genetics. Some individuals may inherit genetic predispositions to certain back conditions, such as a congenital spinal condition like scoliosis or spondylitis.
  • Injuries. Past injuries to the back, even if seemingly minor, will weaken the spine and supporting structures. Over time, this, in turn, will increase the risk of recurrent or chronic back pain.
  • Poor ergonomics. Improperly designed or utilised workstations or pieces of furniture can contribute to poor posture and a subsequent strain on the back, increasing the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders.

When should you see a doctor?

Back pain can be indicative of serious, underlying medical issues like cancer. It’s critical to consult with a healthcare professional for proper evaluation, diagnosis and management, especially if an individual is experiencing one of a combination of the following:

  • Severe pain. Intense, persistent, or disabling back pain that severely interferes with daily activities.
  • Pain following an injury. If the back pain is the result of a fall, accident, or trauma, or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms like numbness, tingling, or weakness in the limbs, prompt medical evaluation is necessary to rule out fractures or nerve damage.
  • Pain persists beyond a few weeks. Minor back strains or muscle spasms will often resolve with adequate rest and self-care. Persistent or recurrent back pain lasting more than a few weeks, however, may indicate an underlying condition that requires medical attention.
  • Progressive symptoms. When the pain worsens over time or if it is accompanied by new symptoms such as fever, bowel or bladder dysfunction, or weakness in the legs, it could signal a more serious issue like infection or nerve compression, which will require immediate medical evaluation.
  • Backpain with night sweats or chills: this could indicate an infection or inflammatory condition requiring medical attention.

Solutions for back pain

Addressing back pain often involves a combination of different treatments, lifestyle modifications, and, in some cases, surgical interventions. The type of solution recommended will depend on the nature and severity of the pain. The main pain management and solutions available are: 

  • Medications. Over-the-counter pain relievers, like anti-inflammatory drugs, can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Muscle relaxants can help relieve muscle spasms associated with the pain. There are also prescription pain medications used for severe pain, like opioids, which may be prescribed for short-term relief.
  • Physical therapy. Physiotherapy or biokinetics can focus on strengthening the muscles supporting the spine, improving flexibility, and correcting posture. Techniques include manual therapy and tactics such as applying heat or ice in order to reduce pain and improve function.
  • Exercise. Low-impact aerobic exercises like walking, swimming, or cycling can help improve blood flow to the spine and promote healing. Core-strengthening exercises, like pilates, can also provide stability and support to the back.
  • Spinal injections. Epidural steroid injections can deliver anti-inflammatory medication directly to the affected area of the spine, providing temporary relief from pain and inflammation.
  • Facet joint injections or nerve blockers can be used to target specific nerves or joints contributing to pain.
  • Bracing and other support aids. Orthotic devices like lumbar supports or back braces can provide stability and relieve pressure on the spine, particularly during activities that exacerbate pain.
  • Surgical options. There are a number of surgical procedures that can deployed to assist with certain spinal conditions and subsequent backpain. A discectomy is used in the cases of herniated discs causing nerve compression and severe symptoms. This procedure will remove the portion of the disc pressing on the nerve. A laminectomy involves removing the lamina (part of the vertebra) to relieve pressure on the spinal cord or nerves. This is commonly used to treat spinal stenosis. A spinal fusion involves joining two or more vertebrae together to stabilise the spine and reduce pain. It’s typically recommended for conditions like degenerative disc disease or spondylolisthesis. Artificial disc replacement involves replacing a damaged spinal disc with an artificial implant to restore mobility and reduce pain. It’s an alternative to fusion surgery in some cases.

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