Back pain is a very common condition and, while non-life-threatening, can be debilitating to the point where people find they can no longer work or go about their daily lives as they once could. According to Harvard Health Publishing, about four in five people in the United States are affected by back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is actually one of the leading reasons that people miss work throughout the year.
Back pain is broken down by upper back, middle back, and lower back pain, depending on what area of the back you are experiencing the pain at. Upper and middle back pain can start anywhere from the base of the neck to the bottom of the ribs (comprising of 12 vertebrae, discs, muscles, and ligaments). Back pain is then classified as either:
- Axial Pain: Also known as mechanical pain, this type of pain is generally isolated to one spot and can be described as dull or sharp and constant or fleeting. A muscle strain would be one example of axial pain. It is the most common kind of lower back pain.
- Referred Pain: This is a type of pain that occurs in another area from the place where the condition causing the pain originated. It tends to be a dull and achy pain. An example of referred pain would be Osteoarthritis, originating in the lower back in this scenario, causing referred pain in the legs.
- Radicular Pain: This is a type of pain that starts in the back and radiates along the spinal nerve root to exit the spinal canal into the hips and legs. The pain can be sharp and searing, with the leg pain ranging from tingling (pins and needles feeling), numbness, and muscle weakness. One example of this pain is Sciatica pain.
Causes of Back Pain
There are several causes of back pain. The following are some of the most common causes of back pain:
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease that often involves the hips, knees, neck, lower back, or small joints of the hands. Osteoarthritis is the actual wearing down of the cartilage located at the ends of the bones. This causes damage to the joint and bone. Changes that occur usually get worse over time and can lead to stiffness and swelling. Simple movements can be very painful in cases involving Osteoarthritis.
- Bulging or Herniated Discs: Disc bulging occurs when the disc extends outside its normal space. The severity of this condition depends on whether the disc is bulging into the spinal canal or not. If it is, it causes the spinal canal to narrow, causing pain. A disc herniation is when the ‘inner jelly-like substance’ pushes out of the disc because of tears or defects in the outer cartilage layer. This puts pressure on the spinal nerves, causing pain.
- Spinal Stenosis: Spinal Stenosis is the narrowing of the space of the spinal canal, which contains the spinal nerves. When this space becomes narrow then the nerves can become compressed, leading to back pain. It can happen in any part of the spine, but most often occurs in the neck and the lower back. Lumbar Spinal Stenosis is the name for the type of Stenosis that is present in the lower back and the lumbar area is made up of five lumbar vertebrae. Check out MILD as a treatment option.
- Sciatica: Sciatica occurs when there is pressure or damage to the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve starts in the lower spine and runs down the back of each leg, ending in the feet. This nerve controls the muscles of the back of the knee and lower leg. Sciatica pain can range from mild to severe and usually occurs on one side of the body. Many people describe the pain as sharp, shooting, or stabbing and some even feel a burning sensation.
Minimally Invasive Treatments for Back Pain
Numerous types of treatments have been developed over the years for back pain and the different conditions that can afflict a person. Thankfully, major surgery with long recovery times tends to be the last resort as minimally invasive treatments have continued to improve and can offer great relief for patients.
Some of those treatments are:
- Minimally Invasive Lumbar Decompression (MILD): This is a fairly new procedure that is used to treat those who suffer from stenosis of the spinal canal, particularly in the lower lumbar area. This is an outpatient treatment, meaning that there are no overnight stays required afterward, and allows patients to recover quickly so they can get back to their regular routine. The procedure is performed by first cleaning and administering local anesthesia and the spot that is being targeted is mapped out using x-ray. When the patient is laying down, face-first onto the table, a small incision is made, and whatever is causing the nerves to become compressed (ex. extra bone tissue) is removed to create space again.
- Minuteman Procedure: This is an alternative to open spine surgery in order to treat Degenerative Disc Disease, Spondylolisthesis, tumors, or trauma. The Minuteman is essentially a spinal fusion device used to create spinal stability and the procedure is a better option for those who may not be able to go through more invasive spinal fusions or go under general anesthesia. The Minuteman procedure is performed with local anesthesia and a one-inch incision is made to the side of the body, with dilation being used to access the spine. X-ray allows for guidance and the Minuteman is implanted with a bone graft.
- Minimally Invasive Lumbar Discectomy: Alternatively known as Microdiscectomy or Microdecompression. This treatment is used in cases of bulging or herniated discs and involves the removal of the damaged parts of the discs to reduce pain by easing the pressure on the spinal cord. This procedure is conducted through a small incision and a small tube is inserted to reach the herniated disc. Tiny tools are then inserted through the tube to be able to remove the targeted parts of the disc. Again, local anesthesia and x-rays are used during the Microdiscectomy and the whole procedure should only be about an hour.
There are numerous benefits to minimally invasive procedures, such as reduced stays, faster recovery times, less blood loss, shorter times spent on the operating table, and no dissections of the back muscles or nerves. It also lowers the chances for a failed back surgery, which generally leads to further pain and more surgery.
How to Help Prevent Back Pain
While back pain cannot always be prevented, such as with degenerative conditions, but there are some practices that you can incorporate into your everyday routine that may help prevent or lessen back pain.
-Start an exercise routine that incorporates back strengthening exercises.
-If you are working a job that requires you to stand for long periods of time then be sure to take breaks when and if possible so you can sit and rest your body.
-If you are working a job that requires you to sit for long periods of time then be sure to stand up, walk around, and do some light stretches every so often (it’s usually recommended to break every hour for five to ten minutes).
-Try to avoid heavy lifting if possible and if you do need to lift heavy objects then use the proper lifting techniques to keep your back safe from injury.
Start Getting Treated Now
If you find yourself suffering from moderate to severe back pain, call Pain and Spine Specialists today! We are a team of highly qualified providers who will properly evaluate your symptoms and determine the best course of treatment. Let us help you return to a fully functioning life, free from pain.