Back Pain - Causes and Treatments

Back pain is a common problem among people especially as they age. The spine is a delicate mechanism that must support the weight of the entire body. It is often subjected to strains and stresses in the daily course of normal activities. Injuries can occur that become progressively worse as time goes on. A number of conditions can cause pain either intermittently or on a chronic basis.


Back injuries can occur from a number of different activities. Lifting heavy objects or using improper lifting techniques can damage the back and lead to a chronic problem. People often strain back muscles during sports or recreational activities. An injury can also occur from an accident or from sudden, awkward movements that damage muscles, ligaments and nerves. The structure of the spine itself can make it vulnerable to injuries.


Spinal stenosis can occur when the interior space of the spinal column becomes narrow, compressing the nerves within the spine and causing back pain. A bulging or ruptured disk can also be the source of pain. The disks cushion the separate vertebrae of the spine. Material in the disks can bulge out of position and cause pain. Osteoporosis can also cause back pain. This condition occurs when soft bones fracture and compress the nerves in the spinal column. Cancer tumors of the spine can press on nerves causing back pain. Other conditions can occur that also cause pain.


To diagnose the cause of back pain, the physician will order x-rays to see if arthritis, infection, deformity or other problems with the structure of the spine. An MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, can help to show problems in the bones, blood vessels, nerves, muscles, tendons or ligaments of the back. Electromyography, or EMG, helps to show the physician problems of the nerves and how muscles respond. The physician may order blood and urine tests to eliminate the possibility of infection that can cause pain.


Rest and anti-inflammatory NSAID medications can often resolve minor back injuries. For more serious pain, narcotics or antidepressants may be prescribed. Cortisone injections in the back can help to reduce inflammation and pain for some people. Other people may require physical therapy and exercise to strengthen the muscles that support the spine. For some people with ongoing back problems, surgery may be necessary. In this surgery, bones can be fused to reduce pain. Another type of surgery removes a portion of the disk that is causing pain. If bony growths are pinching nerves, the surgeon may remove part of the affected vertebra to relieve the pain. 


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