Good News About Back Pain: It's Often Temporary

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At some point in life, almost everyone will experience some degree of back pain. In fact, it’s one of the top reasons for hospitalization and the second leading cause of missed work.

Back pain can have many causes, including:

  • Structural abnormalities such as disc degeneration or spinal stenosis
  • Muscle or ligament strain after lifting or moving something heavy
  • Simple wear and tear after a lifetime of bending, twisting and lifting
  • In rare cases, tumors, infection, autoimmune disease or fractures

The good news is most back pain is temporary and improves with rest, over-the-counter pain medications and gentle stretches. However, there are certain time when you should seek out medical help.

When To Call The Doctor About Back Pain

Call your doctor to make an appointment if:

  • Your pain is so severe you can’t perform simple tasks
  • Your pain doesn’t improve after four weeks
  • You suffered a recent fall or injury to your back
  • You are experiencing unexplained weight loss or fever, or you a have history of cancer or osteoporosis

Call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest emergency room if:

  • You experience sudden numbness or weakness in your legs
  • You begin having problems with bowel or bladder control
  • You have pain radiating down your legs that prevents you from walking

Physicians usually start treatment for an achy back with pain medications and physical therapy, which may include strengthening exercises, heat or ice, and massage. Steroid shots may also be recommended to calm inflamed nerves and worn joints. Imaging studies such as X-rays, a CT scan, or an MRI scan are often ordered to guide further management.

“Most people will respond to conservative treatments and do not require surgery,” says UH spine specialist and neurosurgeon Jeffrey Nelson, MD. “In some cases, however, surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on nerves or fuse spinal segments to stabilize the back,”  Dr. Nelson says. “Every patient and every back is different. The best way to pinpoint the cause of your back pain and best course of treatment is to be evaluated by a spine specialist.

“Chronic pain can impact every part of your life, but I’ve also found that fear of the unknown can cause significant anxiety. I love helping my patients understand the specific issues going on with their back as much as I enjoy fixing their problems in the operating room,” Dr. Nelson says.

Related links

Regardless of the type of back pain you are living with, it is important to see an expert spine doctor or specialist for back pain for an accurate diagnosis and to help determine an individualized back pain treatment plan. Learn more about the treatment for back pain at University Hospitals.

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