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Back pain - symptoms, description and treatment

Author MUDr. Peter Bednarčík CSc.

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Back pain
Back pain

Does every day start with a nagging feeling of back pain from the moment you wake up until the evening? Does pain follow you like a shadow all the time – when you work at the computer, when you go out or do your housework? You can win the war against back pain. Learn about ways to fight back and not give up an active life.

Find out what the causes, and what treatment options exist. How to suppress back pain ? Read more here.

Back pain - symptoms

Pain:

  • Burning, dull, stabbing or pulsing into the leg or accompanied by tingling.
  • It can occur in any part of the back.
  • Certain movements such as turning, bending, stooping or walking can aggravate it.

This is usually accompanied by a general limitation of mobility due to pain. 1

If the problems do not subside spontaneously or within two weeks after starting home treatment, it is advisable to see a doctor. You should not delay seeing a doctor if the pain occurs after an accident or fall. Medical help is also needed when pain severely restricts walking, causes numbness in the limbs or even affects elimination. 2

Notice

Only a doctor can make a correct diagnosis. Do not use this or any other article on the internet to make a diagnosis. Don’t put off seeing a doctor and address your condition early.

Back pain - Description and causes

Pain in the back  leads thousands of adults to see their doctor every year. Anyone who has experienced low back pain or between the shoulder blades knows that this is an unpleasant problem. It can be addressed in a variety of ways, some of which are relatively simple and effective. We summarise all the essentials and give advice on how to treat it.

What is back pain

It is a condition where there is discomfort in any part of the back described as a dull, burning, shooting or stabbing pain. Pain can also move from the back to the lower and upper limbs. Low back pain or upper back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical attention. 3

Back ache is usually a matter of days or weeks, but if it lasts longer than three months, it is called chronic back pain. 4 Back ache is common at all ages. With increasing age, especially after 80, but the number of cases is increasing. 5

People prone to depressive and anxiety disorders are more at risk of ache pain than people without psychological problems. Excessive stress causes increased muscle tension, which can contribute to painful conditions. 6

Causes of back pain

Causes of back pain
Intervertebral disc protrusion - one of the possible causes of back pain. The difference between a healthy disc picture 1 and a herniated disc picture 2 and 3

The most common causes include:

  • Increased muscle tension and cramps,
  • intervertebral disc disease,
  • Osteoporosis,
  • ankylosing spondylitis (Bechterew’s disease),
  • accidents and injuries.

Excessive muscle tension can be related to repetitive unilateral movements, lifting heavy loads or sudden unnatural body movements. Pain in the left side of the back may be related to poor desk layout. Disease of the intervertebral disc (usually prolapse) can lead to comppression of the surrounding nerves and pain. Osteoarthritis (degenerative joint cartilage disease) affects the vertebral bodies or intervertebral joints and can cause lower back pain or pain in the cervical spine. 7

Back pain in the kidney area may be related to diseases of internal organs, such as the kidneys. 8 Back pain in pregnancy is a separate issue , with weight gain, changes in the body’s centre of gravity and hormonal changes all contribute.

Diagnostics

Usually includes:

  • Physical examination,
  • imaging methods (X-ray, computed tomography – CT, magnetic resonance imaging – MRI),
  • specialised tests (e.g. bone density check or electromyography – examination of the electrical activity of muscles and nerves).

For uncomplicated back ache, a good physical examination is usually sufficient, during which the doctor assesses muscle tension, posture, gait, mobility, pain, quality of reflexes and sensitivity. 10

Did you know?

  • Low back pain affects hundreds of millions of people around the world. Experts estimate that more than 800 million people will be involved in 2050.
  • Lower back pain is most common in the 50-55 age group. Problems are more common in women than in men. 11
  • Half of patients with back ache have more than one episode per year. In 90% of cases, the pain can be treated conservatively (without surgery). 12

Complications when left untreated

Untreated back ache can lead to a number of complications.

  • Chronic pain. It is then harder to treat.
  • Restriction of mobility. It can lead to reduced range of motion and flexibility in the back.
  • Interrupted sleep. It can lead to lack of rest and negatively affect overall health.
  • Psychological impact. Can lead to depression, anxiety.
Chronic pain

Chronic pain

Restriction of mobility

Restriction of mobility

Disturbed sleep

Interrupted sleep

Depression. Anxiety

Depression, anxiety

Notice

We recommend not delaying treatment for back pain

Do not delay treatment and see a specialist if you have any health problems or doubts about your health. This will prevent unnecessary health complications.

Treatment of back pain

Treatment is usually without major medical intervention and the problems subside with conservative treatment within 3 to 4 weeks. For many patients, analgesics, limiting physically demanding activities or using warm compresses are sufficient. However, there are also cases where the pain lasts longer and treatment is more difficult. 13

Medication for back pain

  • Mostly non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used. However, they should not be taken long-term because of possible side effects.
  • Muscle relaxants are justified when conventional analgesics lack effectivity.
  • Analgesic ointment can also provide pain relief. Ointments, gels or creams contain various pain-relieving substances.
  • A pain relieving patch is also available.
  • For severe cases, your doctor may prescribe opioids and, in some cases, antidepressants. Selected types of antidepressants relieve chronic back pain. 14
Notice

Beware

Treatment can only be determined by your doctor after considering your overall health. Therefore, do not use this article as a guide to treatment, which can only be determined by a doctor.

Physical therapy and exercises

Exercises against back pain recommended by a physiotherapist
A physiotherapist will recommend exercises for back pain. 1. Exercise Bird Dog,2. Stretching the rib cage, 3. Stretching the hamstrings, 4. Stretching Cat - cow, 5. Back stretch, 6. Stretching the knee, 7. Swimming

Physiotherapy has a vital place in the treatment of back ache.

Exercises led by a physiotherapist and home exercises for pain in the back help to relieve muscle tension and strengthen back and abdominal muscles. The physiotherapist will assess movement habits and help to modify inappropriate movement stereotypes. Correct posture is essential for short and long-term back health. Patients can also consult a physiotherapist about the use of hot and cold compresses.

  • Heat relieves pain and helps to relax the muscles.
  • Cold compresses relieve unpleasant painful sensations during inflammation. 15

Exercise at home and outdoor sports should be a regular and long-term activity. Swimming or walking is particularly good for the back. Yoga can also be a good option. Its effect is to stretch and strengthen the muscles and improve the posture of the whole body. 16

Surgical pain management and other procedures

Home remedies for back pain includes various herbal remedies
Home remedies for back pain includes various herbal remedies. 1 - Chinese angelica, 2 - Willow bark, 3 - Arnica, 4 - Oregano oil, 5 - Aloe vera, 6 - Turmeric, 7 - Cat's claw, 8 - Rosemary, 9 - Nettle, 10 - Devil's claw, 11 - Chinese angelica, 12 - Holy basil, 13 - Guggul, 14 - Valerian root, 15 - Ginger, 16 - Chamomile, 17 - Frankincense, 18. St. John's Wort, 19.Common St. John's Wort, 20. Ash, 21. Cayenne pepper

Conservative treatment and regimen measures may not bring about pain relief and resolve longer-term problems. Therefore, injections containing corticosteroids may be the next course of action. A substance that relieves the manifestations of inflammation is injected directly into the back.

If the cause of the pain is a herniated intervertebral disc or other serious spinal condition, your doctor may recommend back surgery.

Alternative ways to address pain in the back include  a chiropractor, acupuncture, or the use of essential oils and herbal products .

Myths about back pain

Correct sleep position is important for back health

There are many misconceptions and myths surrounding the topic of back pain.

  • Myth #1: Lifting heavy objects is a major cause of pain in the back.
    Heavy loads may contribute to it, but they are far from the only cause. A sedentary lifestyle, obesity or poor posture also play a role.
  • Myth no. 2: When you suffer from pain in the back , it is best to stay in bed.
    Passivity does not usually bring relief. While a calmer and more sparing regime is desirable after the onset of pain, simply lying down for longer periods can prolong or even worsen the pain. Moderate physical activity is usually beneficial for patients and also serves as a prevention of other problems.
  • Myth no. 3: A firm mattress will relieve pain in the back.
    There is no single ideal mattress firmness for people with this afflection. Something different suits everyone with regard to the origin and location of the pain. A medium or soft mattress can be used. [18]
Notice

Important information when dealing with back pain

  • It is one of the most common pains. Problems usually worsen with advancing age.
  • The main causes include increased muscle tension and various spinal conditions.
  • Conservative treatment (painkillers and physiotherapy) will solve a significant part of the back problems.
  • Prevention of recurrent and chronic pain is mainly based on regular physical activity, correct posture and a healthy lifestyle.

Summary and recommendations for dealing with back pain

1.

See your physician

Treatment is always determined by your doctor based on a general examination, an assessment of your condition and an accurate diagnosis.

2.

Causal treatment of back pain

After a general examination, your doctor will recommend treatment for the cause of your pain. They will also advise you on possible lifestyle adjustments and the next course of action.

3.

Relieving pain, swelling and inflammation

Symptomatic treatment focuses on the manifestations or signs (symptoms) of the disease. Such treatment can significantly improve your quality of life and support comprehensive treatment during the course of the disease.

Sources, references and literature

[1] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[2] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[3] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[4] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[5] Low Back Pain. World Health Organisation, 19. June 2023. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/low-back-pain

[6] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[7] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[8] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[9] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[10] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[11] Low Back Pain. World Health Organisation, 19. June 2023. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/low-back-pain

[12] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[13] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[14] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[15] Lights V. What Is Back Pain? Healthline, 2. December 2021. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain

[16] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[17] Back Pain. Mayo Clinic, 18. February 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/symptoms-causes/syc-20369906

[18] Murhpy M. 8 common myths about back pain. Mayo Clinic Health System, 28. July 2023. Available at: https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/8-common-myths-about-back-pain

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