There is almost no adult person that hasn’t complained of back pain at some point in their lives. And unfortunately, back pain is very uncomfortable regardless of how intense it is and how long or short it lasts. On top of that, back pain can also be difficult to diagnose and treat.
According to research, some 80% of adults suffer from some type of back pain. Depending on how long the symptoms last, back pain can be either described as acute, subacute, or chronic and each of these types of pains manifest differently.
Acute back pain is the most common of these three, it happens suddenly and only lasts a couple of days to a few weeks. Subacute pain can also come suddenly but it lasts longer – from 4 to 12 weeks. The last type of back pain is chronic which can develop from subacute pain. Chronic pain lasts longer than 12 weeks.
With that said, let’s see how back pain can be evaluated and treated in adult patients.
To talk about back pain, we must first understand the spinal anatomy. The spine, and therefore the back, consists of several complex structures that are there to support our body, including many other important functions. When you feel pain in your back, it means that there is a problem with one of those structures.
The four main regions of the spine include the cervical spine, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, and sacrum and coccyx. In addition to those four main parts, we also have parts of the spine and back – vertebrae, spinal cord, intervertebral discs, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
Vertebrae are 33 small, individual bones that are stacked on top of each other and their role is to protect the spinal cord. This brings us to the spinal cord – a long bundle of nerves that starts from our brains and runs through a canal in vertebrae.
Between each vertebra, we have intervertebral discs, which are pad-like cushions that act as shock absorbers and spine spacers. The vertebra is held in place by ligaments – tough but flexible tissue. And lastly, we have tendons and muscles. Tendons are tissue that connects bones and muscles. And muscles are there to support the spine and our upper bodies.
Now that we know what our backs are made of, we can talk about pain and what causes it.
Back pain causes
The number of causes of back pain can be many, but most of the time the causes are either mechanical or structural problems with the spine, inflammatory conditions, or other medical conditions.
Mechanical or structural problems include some sort of sprain or strain usually related to sports injuries, spondylolisthesis, herniated discs, or scoliosis among others.
Arthritis is seen as an inflammatory condition and ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine. Other medical conditions that cause back pain in adults include osteoporosis, kidney stones and other infections, pregnancy, and in some cases, tumors.
All in all, back pain can be an indication that something more serious is wrong.
Diagnosis and treatment
Often, diagnosing back pain can be complicated. That’s why you need to know how to describe the pain to your physician – where it happens, what are the symptoms, how intense is the pain, and how long does it last. The doctor will then perform a physical examination and if necessary, send you to do additional tests.
Those tests may include X-ray, MRI, CT-scan, and even bone scans. Once all the tests are performed, your physician will be able to tell you the diagnosis and recommend treatment.
As for treatment, depending on how severe the diagnosis is, you’ll be recommended either home treatment, medical treatment, or even surgery.
Sports injuries, if not serious, can only be treated with a good sports massage.
If we’re talking about scoliosis, in particular, your doctor will recommend an effective scoliosis treatment. Scoliosis treatment depends largely on the type of scoliosis and how advanced it is. But just so you are aware, scoliosis can be treated non-surgically using a variety of therapies or with surgery.
Back pain is very rarely treated with surgery, but there are cases such as herniated disks, where surgery is the only way to get rid of persistent pain.
Everyone who has experienced back pain knows how painful, uncomfortable and even frightening back pain can be. Fortunately, back pain in adults is usually age-related and it gets better on its own. However, in cases, when back pain becomes too much to bear, don’t wait a minute longer, and visit your physician.