Back pain (also known “dorsalgia”) is pain felt in the back that may originate from the muscles, nerves, bones, joints or other structures in the spine.The pain may be have a sudden onset or it can be a chronic pain, it can be felt constantly or intermittently, stay in one place or refer or radiate to other areas. It may be a dull ache, or a sharp or piercing or burning sensation. The pain may be felt in the neck (and might radiate into the arm and hand), in the upper back, or in the low back, (and might radiate into the leg or foot), and may include symptoms other than pain, such as weakness, numbness or tingling.Back pain is one of humanity’s most frequent complaints. In the U.S., acute low back pain (also called lumbago) is the fifth most common reason for all physician visits. About nine out of ten adults experience back pain at some point in their life, and five out of ten working adults have back pain every year. The spine is a complex interconnecting network of nerves, joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, and all are capable of producing pain. Large nerves that originate in the spine and go to the legs and arms can make pain radiate to the extremities.Back pain can be a sign of a serious medical problem, although this is not most frequently the underlying cause:
- Typical warning signs of a potentially life-threatening problem are bowel and/or bladder incontinence or progressive weakness in the legs. Patients with these symptoms should seek immediate medical care.
- Severe back pain (such as pain that is bad enough to interrupt sleep) that occurs with other signs of severe illness (e.g. fever, unexplained weight loss) may also indicate a serious underlying medical condition, such as cancer.
- Back pain that occurs after a trauma, such as a car accident or fall, should also be promptly evaluated by a medical professional to check for a fracture or other injury.
- Back pain in individuals with medical conditions that put them at high risk for a spinal fracture, such as osteoporosis or multiple myeloma, also warrants prompt medical attention.
In general, however, back pain does not usually require immediate medical intervention. The vast majority of episodes of back pain are self-limiting and non-progressive. Most back pain syndromes are due to inflammation, especially in the acute phase, which typically lasts for two weeks to three months.
Transient back pain is likely one of the first symptoms of influenza.Muscle strains (pulled muscles) are commonly identified as the cause of back pain, as are muscle imbalances. Pain from such an injury often remains as long as the muscle imbalances persist. The muscle imbalances cause a mechanical problem with the skeleton, building up pressure at points along the spine, which causes the pain.Another cause of acute low back pain is a Meniscoid Occlusion. The more mobile regions of the spine have invaginations of the synovial membrane that act as a cushion to help the bones move over each other smoothly. The synovial membrane is well supplied with blood and nerves. When it becomes pinched or trapped it can cause sudden severe pain. The pinching causes the membrane to become inflamed, causing greater pressure and ongoing pain. Symptoms include severe low back pain that may be accompanied by muscle spasm, pain with walking, concentration of pain to one side, and no radiculopathy (radiating pain down buttock and leg). Relief should be felt with flexion (bending forward), exacerbated with extension (bending backward).When back pain lasts more than three months, or if there is more radicular pain (sciatica) than back pain, a more specific diagnosis can usually be made. There are several common causes of back pain: for adults under age 50, these include spinal disc herniation and degenerative disc disease or isthmic spondylolisthesis; in adults over age 50, common causes also include osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease) and spinal stenosis,trauma, cancer, infection, fractures, and inflammatory disease Non-anatomical factors can also contribute to or cause back pain, such as stress, repressed anger, or depression. Even if there is an anatomical cause for the pain, if depression is present it should also be treated concurrently.Back pain is frequently experienced when no underlying anatomical problem is apparent. Some believe this pain to be caused by tension myositis syndrome.
The management goals when treating back pain are to achieve maximal reduction in pain intensity as rapidly as possible; to restore the individual’s ability to function in everyday activities; to help the patient cope with residual pain; to assess for side-effects of therapy; and to facilitate the patient’s passage through the legal and socioeconomic impediments to recovery. For many, the goal is to keep the pain to a manageable level to progress with rehabilitation, which then can lead to long term pain relief. Also, for some people the goal is to use non-surgical therapies to manage the pain and avoid major surgery, while for others surgery may be the quickest way to feel better.Not all treatments work for all conditions or for all individuals with the same condition, and many find that they need to try several treatment options to determine what works best for them. The present stage of the condition (acute or chronic) is also a determining factor in the choice of treatment. Only a minority of back pain patients (most estimates are 1% – 10%) require surgery.