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Back Pain

What is Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States – some 50 percent to 80 percent of adults have had back pain at some time, and 10 percent of all Americans have back pain in a given year. Back pain can occur at any age in both men and women.

  • Back pain affects 50 to 80 percent of people in the U.S. at some point in their lives.
  • In any given year, 10 percent of adults experience back pain or other symptoms, such as limited mobility or stiffness.
  • Each year, Americans spend an estimated $24 billion on treatments for back pain – not including missed time from work nor the emotional costs of enduring pain and not being able to participate in daily activities. Imagine what it would be like to have problems working, golfing or enjoying playtime with children!
  • Back pain can be mildly uncomfortable, excruciating or anywhere in between. It can start slowly, sometimes a result of poor posture, or come on suddenly because of injury.
  • Back pain can last for a few short days or can linger for weeks, months and even years.
  • Arthritis is a common form of back pain. The earlier arthritis is diagnosed, the more steps can be taken to reduce disability in the future.
  • Other factors that aggravate back pain include suffering from stress, not getting enough sleep, being overweight, having poor posture or not being physically fit.
  • Back pain should not be considered a normal part of aging; it is a chronic condition that calls for similar lifestyle changes as diseases like arthritis and diabetes do.

What causes it?

Most back pain is due to irritation of the joints, or pressure on the ligaments and muscles from diseased discs or bony spurs. Pressure on the nerve roots can also lead to back and leg pain. 

Here is a list of other possible causes of back pain:

  • Ruptured intervertebral disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Injury or accident
  • Rheumatic diseases
  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Paget’s disease
  • Prostate problems
  • Female reproductive organs
  • Kidney infection or stones
  • Diseases of intestines or pancreas
  • Cancer
  • Curvature of spine

How is it diagnosed?

Your primary-care physician can evaluate and treat most cases of back pain. If you have atypical pain, there is suspicion of an unusual cause, or you don’t feel better after several weeks of treatment, your doctor may suggest that you see a rheumatologist, an orthopaedist, a neurosurgeon, a neurologist or another specialist for advice.

If your back pain is accompanied by any of the following, make an appointment to see a doctor today:

  • pain that doesn’t improve when you lie on your back
  • weakness, pain or numbness in one or both legs
  • a severe fall or injury
  • fever or unintentional weight loss
  • pain or difficulty when urinating

What are the treatment options?

More than 85 percent of people with low back pain improve in days to several weeks with minimal treatment. If back problems persist, doctors generally prescribe one or more of the following treatments: rest, heat, exercise, posture training, weight loss, stress management, medication and, occasionally, surgery.

Exercise is necessary to keep the back strong and limber. A good conditioning (aerobic) exercise program can be particularly helpful. If you have any medical problems or are over 45 and have not exercised regularly, consult your doctor to get help in devising a specific exercise program.

An effective exercise program includes:

  • a warm-up period;
  • at least 30 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week;
  • abdominal muscle strengthening; and,
  • a cool-down period

Over time, the rewards of regular exercise can include a slimmer waistline and fewer back pain symptoms.