Back pain is a serious concern for a lot of individuals. Robert Deters, M.D, will talk about back pain and symptoms.
Back pain is an extremely common problem that causes people to seek medical attention. Nearly everyone experiences an episode of significant back pain at some point during their lifetime. There are many causes of back pain. It is important to think of back pain as a symptom and not a specific disease. Many different types of problems can present with back pain as a symptom. Fortunately the great majority of cases are self-limited and not a sign of a serious illness. Often back pain will resolve on its own within several weeks without specific treatment.
There are serious causes of back pain. Fortunately they are relatively rare. The following are some "red flags" that may indicate a more serious cause of back pain.
Back pain at night or while lying down needs closer attention than back pain that occurs when standing, walking, or performing physical activities. Other red flags include fever, chills, or night sweats associated with back pain. An infection of the spine is a serious condition and can be associated with fever, chills, or night sweats.
Back pain in a person with recent unexplained significant weight loss is worrisome. A history of cancer is a red flag, particularly if it is a type of cancer which commonly spreads to the bone. Thyroid, breast, kidney, prostate, and certain types of lung cancer are more likely to spread to the bones.
Most of the time back pain is a symptom of a musculoskeletal condition that, while painful and annoying, is not dangerous. A lumbar strain injury is very common and not dangerous. Most people will experience an episode during their lifetime. It can be very painful and disabling for a short period of time. It is caused by a sprain or strain of the muscles and ligaments in the lumbar spine. Although it can be very painful and often is debilitating, it usually resolves within several weeks, often without specific medical treatment.
Other causes of back pain are related to lumbar degenerative disk disease. This is really the aging process of the spine. The discs that are soft tissue structures between the bones in the back known as the vertebrae show signs of wear and tear as we age.
Several common conditions are related to lumbar degenerative disk disease. Lumbar radiculopathy, also called sciatica, refers to back and leg pain caused by an irritated nerve in the lumbar spine. It is often associated with numbness in the leg. It tends to affect one leg and the pain and numbness can extend below the knee to the calf, foot, and ankle. It tends to affect people age 30 and older.
Spinal stenosis is another condition that is related to lumbar degenerative disk disease. This tends to affect people that are 60 and older. It involves a combination of back and leg pain, often with numbness that tends to be worse with standing and walking and is relieved by sitting down or flexing forward at the waist. Patients with stenosis will sometimes say that they lean forward on the grocery cart when they are shopping and that this improves their back and leg pain.
Another cause of back pain is an acute vertebral compression fracture. These usually occur in elderly people with osteoporosis. They often are the result of a fall or injury, but they sometimes occur spontaneously without any apparent injury. The pain from a vertebral compression fracture is often very severe. Most often they occur in the upper lumbar spine or lower thoracic spine.
Back pain is a symptom that has many causes. Usually it is not an indication of a severe medical problem. A period of rest and using ice, heat, or over the counter medications for pain is often the only treatment required. Often the back pain will resolve within several weeks without treatment.
If you experience severe back pain that goes on longer than 4-6 weeks and is not improving or if your back pain is associated with one of the red flags mentioned above, consider seeking medical treatment.
Robert Deters, M.D., can be reached at HealthAlliance Hospital, 50 Memorial Drive, Suite 207, 978-466-2421. Please contact your physician if you are experiencing any health concerns. If you are looking for a doctor, please call our physician referral line at 888-840-DOCS (3627). If you would like to submit a health topic, please email email@example.com