Back pain is one of the most common reasons for doctor visits and missed workdays. There are two types of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute back pain lasts for less than twelve weeks. It may be caused by a minor injury, like a muscle strain. Home care such as hot/ cold therapy, topical analgesics, and gentle stretches are usually effective for this type of pain.
About 20 percent of patients presenting with acute back pain become chronic pain patients. Pain is described as chronic if it has lasted longer than 12 weeks, even after the initial cause has been treated. There are several reasons why back pain can become chronic. In this article, we will discuss the causes of chronic back pain and what sorts of treatments are available for it.
Chronic Pain Causes
Sometimes chronic back pain is caused by congenital abnormalities such as Scoliosis or Spinal Bifida, but it is more frequently caused by injury, degeneration, or conditions that affect the spinal cord.
Back injuries are common; a simple mistake such as twisting while you lift can injure your back muscles, ligaments, and even the discs between your vertebrae. Some injuries, like those caused by car accidents, can affect the curves of your spine. This puts a strain on the surrounding tissues, causing pain. Depending on how severe this injury is, the pain might be long-lasting.
The term “degenerative” refers to conditions that get worse with age. Back pain, in general, usually starts between the ages of 30 and 50. Some spinal degeneration –the cushy discs between your vertebrae becoming thinner with age–is associated with normal wear and tear. In some people, this “normal” condition can cause pain. Arthritis or other inflammatory conditions such as spondylitis also tend to get worse with age. If you have had an injury to a disc or spinal joint, you may be at increased risk of developing arthritis in that area.
Problems with the spinal cord can include bulging or herniated discs or misaligned joints that are putting pressure on nerves. Infection of back structures like vertebra, discs, or the sacroiliac joints that connect the spine to the pelvis is also a possible culprit. Conditions that are affecting the nerves of your spine may cause tingling, numbness, or weakness in addition to pain. Sometimes these conditions are serious and require emergency care. Sciatica is a common (non-emergency) spinal problem caused by a disc or misaligned joint pressing on the Sciatic nerve. This nerve runs down through your buttocks into your thigh. Symptoms of sciatica include a burning or shooting type of pain that radiates through the lower back and down one leg.
Many people who suffer from chronic pain from these causes have had surgery or treatment to fix the issue but still experience pain. Researchers aren’t sure what causes this. Some people may be more sensitive to pain than others. Or there could be neurological damage that hasn’t been detected. Nerves do heal, but they tend to do so slowly. Other factors such as age and fitness may also play a role in why acute pain turns into chronic pain for some people and not others.
Treatments for Chronic Pain
It can be frustrating and depressing to hear that the causes of your pain aren’t known or to have pain recur after going through surgery to fix it. Over the past decade, more research has been devoted to helping people manage and reduce chronic pain. There are now FDA approved non-surgical treatments for chronic pain that have proven effective for many patients. Different treatments will be right for different situations, so please talk to your chiropractor about your conditions, health history, and medications before you undergo treatment. Some of the options below are appropriate for patients who have had failed back surgery. Your eligibility may vary depending on the placement of hardware in your back.
What It Is: Chiropractic adjustment refers to the practice of manipulating the spine to fix misaligned vertebrae. These adjustments can be performed by hand or with the help of therapeutic equipment. They are usually painless, and the risk of side effects is extremely low. Adjustment is a good place to start if you’ve had a back injury. Sometimes adjustment can keep acute pain from becoming chronic.
What It Treats: Chiropractic adjustment mainly focuses on moving the vertebrae back into proper alignment. It can help with problems that are being caused by misaligned vertebrae. This can include vertebrae that are pinching or putting pressure on nerves. Some people who have had whiplash injuries will also benefit from types of adjustments that are meant to correct the curve of the cervical spine.
What It Is: A clinician uses an FDA approved class IV laser to treat the injured area. This is a painless procedure that helps to increase circulation, decrease inflammation, and promote healing. The procedure is painless and quick (sessions usually last less than 20 minutes.) Several sessions may be needed, but many patients experience lasting pain relief.
What It Treats: Laser therapy is especially helpful for any condition where inflammation is suspected. This includes injuries to the tissue or chronic inflammatory problems affecting the spine.
Acoustic Compression Therapy
What It Is: A clinician uses an FDA approved acoustic device to direct concentrated sound waves at the injured area. These waves work to break up scar tissue or adhesions that are causing pain and limiting mobility. Acoustic compression also increases circulation and reduces inflammation. This therapy is very attractive to those who suffer from chronic pain because it can be used to desensitize nerves that may be overactive or misfiring.
What It Treats: injuries that have resulted in scar tissue are good candidates for this therapy, as are chronic pain conditions that have lasted even after treatment to fix the problem.
Spinal Decompression Therapy
What It Is: Your chiropractor uses a computerized table to stretch your spine gently, creating negative pressure with the disc space. This therapy is comfortable and safe for most people and can result in permanent resolution of back pain after several treatments.
What It Treats: Spinal Decompression therapy can cure bulging discs and soothe herniated discs. If you’re suffering from pinched nerves due to bulging or herniated discs, spinal decompression can help. It can also help manage pain related to degenerative disc disease.