Back Pain

Overview

Back pain is a common complaint, and most people will have some back pain in their lifetime. Back pain can be chronic or acute and can have several different origins. Most of the time the pain will recede on its own, but sometimes – as in chronic cases – it will require medical intervention. The good news is back pain is usually easily treatable and rarely requires surgery.

Symptoms

Back pain can be diffuse or localized. Common symptoms associated with back pain are sore back muscles, stabbing or shooting pains, which may stay in the back or radiate down the leg, and an inability to move with a full range of motion or stand up straight.

Less commonly, back pain can cause swelling, bladder and bowel problems, abdominal throbbing and fever, radiation of pain down both legs or weakness and numbness in the legs. If any of these symptoms are present or if intense back pain follows an accident or fall, these may be a symptom of more serious medical conditions. Anyone suffering these symptoms should see a doctor.

Diagnosis

During diagnosis, a physician will record symptoms and inspect the back. The physician may also test reflexes and check a patient’s ability to bend, sit, stand and lift the legs. Further tests are not usually required, however in more complicated cases of back pain, several tools are available for diagnosis. Doctors may choose to use x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, or CT scans to show back problems that cannot be directly observed. This may include problems with the bones, tendons or nerves. If cancer is the suspected cause of pain, a bone scan may be used to find tumors. Nerve studies may also be conducted to find if the source of back pain is neurological.

Causes

Frequently, back pain is caused by a pulled or strained muscle or ligament. This can happen when something heavy is lifted or due to sudden jerks or movements, particularly in those with poor physical fitness. Abnormalities in spinal shape – such as in scoliosis – can place strain on muscle and bone, causing pain. Bulging or ruptured disks can press on nerves, arthritis can cause inflammation in the spine and osteoporosis can make compression fractures more likely. All of these conditions can be the source of back pain.  Continue for Prevention information . . .

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