Studies have shown that 8% of American adults suffer from chronic back pain. That pain can manifest in the upper or lower back, and impact your quality of life. Chronic low back pain impacts the lumbar area of the spine, often causing dull aches, sharp pains, and muscle spasms. Chronic pain in the upper back affects the area below the neck and behind your chest, resulting in spasms, pains, and tenderness. In order to treat properly treat chronic back pain, you first must understand what chronic back pain is, what causes it, and the symptoms to look out for.
What is Chronic Back Pain?
Chronic back pain is any recurring discomfort in the back that lasts for over six months. The duration of the condition is what separates chronic pain from acute pain or discomfort, which typically lasts less than six months. If you’re one of the 16 million Americans with chronic back pain, it’s time to make changes and seek relief.
There are several reasons you may experience chronic back pain. It’s a common condition that is often the result of an underlying issue. Common causes include:
Treatment often involves some combination of addressing the underlying causes and alleviating the associated pain.
No two people experience pain the exact same way. Chronic back pain symptoms often depend on where in the body the discomfort manifests, and some people experience more of a certain type of pain than others.
For lower-back pain, symptoms often include:
- Dull aches
- Sharp pain
- Soreness to the touch
- Difficulty moving
- Reduced flexibility
- Muscle spasms
For mid-back pain, symptoms include:
- Fatigue and issues sleeping
- Redness or swelling
- Tingling or numbness in the arms, legs, or chest
- Weakness in the arms or legs
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Nonsurgical Treatment Options
Treatment for chronic back pain can be either non-surgical or surgical. It’s best for patients to begin by trying more conservative treatment options. We recommend utilizing surgical options as a last resort. You might be able to ease your back pain through the following nonsurgical methods.
A set of exercises can help strengthen your back muscles, increase flexibility, and ease your pain. The specific exercises will depend on the location and nature of your discomfort, so make sure you get professional advice before starting a new routine. Aerobic and strengthening exercises can reinvigorate your core while stretching activities can boost your liability. Physical therapy can also help improve your posture and remove needless tension on your spine.
Excess weight is often the main driver of back pain. Swapping out fatty foods for healthier alternatives can help maintain the right weight for your body type. Certain foods can also produce inflammation, especially processed foods with high amounts of trans fats and sugar. Cutting these types of foods from your diet could ease your back pain while improving your overall health.
Whenever pain becomes an unfortunate reality in your life, it’s vital that you modify your activities and lifestyle as needed. If certain activities increase the discomfort, try avoiding them as much as possible. Take breaks when necessary and avoid lifting excessively heavy loads. Not only will these measures help you avoid pain in the short term, but they could also allow your body to heal and increase your long-term well-being.
Even if you aren’t participating in a structured physical therapy regimen, a bit of casual stretching could go a long way toward easing your pain. Simple exercises can help you reduce tension in the muscles around the spine. Stretching will also increase your range of motion and help you live a normal life. Just make sure you don’t push your body too far. Careless or overzealous stretching can actually make your chronic back pain worse.
Heat or Ice Therapy
Heat and ice can help ease back pain, especially when the discomfort comes after exercise or some other form of exertion. Try applying ice immediately after a strenuous activity to reduce inflammation. After 24 hours, switch to using heat, which will help repair any tissue damage that might have occurred.
Over-the-counter pain relievers can help reduce inflammation and ease the discomfort associated with regular back pain. Acetaminophen, often known by the brand name Tylenol, is an excellent option. You can also use ibuprofen, often sold as Advil or Motrin, or naproxen, which is often packaged as Aleve. Even if these medications won’t treat the underlying causes of pain, they can still provide temporary relief.
While it’s always better to start with conservative, nonsurgical treatment options, there are times when surgery is necessary to treat chronic back pain. Before undergoing an operation, always meet with a doctor to get a proper diagnosis. A medical professional will consider the specific nature of your pain, your medical history, and any underlying health conditions before determining which surgical treatment is best. If less invasive measures have proven unsuccessful, your doctor may suggest one of the following surgical treatments.
Minimally Invasive Spinal Fusion
Through minimally invasive spinal fusion, doctors can correct issues with the vertebrae that cause swelling and pain. The procedure involves fusing vertebrae into a single solid bone. With the latest innovations in lighting and optics, surgeons can avoid painful incisions and accelerate recovery time for patients.
A lumbar microdiscectomy is a common treatment for a herniated disk. By removing excess material from around the spine, the surgeon relieves pressure on the spinal nerve root. This, in turn, eliminates the pain associated with the herniated disk. Even though it’s technically classified as open surgery, a microdiscectomy is minimally invasive and does very little damage to surrounding tissues.
Lateral and Posterior Surgical Approaches
There are multiple ways for surgeons to access the affected areas of your spine. With lateral surgical approaches, the doctor creates an incision on the patient’s flank, allowing them to access the spin without cutting through back muscles or moving any nerves. With posterior surgical approaches, the surgeon makes an incision in the patient’s back, giving them wider access to the entire area of the spine. Your doctor will consider your medical history and specific condition when deciding which approach is best.
It’s Time to Seek Relief
Chronic back pain is incredibly common, and it doesn’t have to destroy your quality of life. Nonsurgical treatment options can cure underlying causes while providing immediate relief. If these don’t work, surgical treatments can resolve the problem at its source.
Dr. Alexander has the knowledge and experience to accurately assess your back pain and guide you toward a long-term solution. If you’re ready to experience a pain-free existence, make an appointment with Dr. Alexander today.