Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting 80% of adults at some point in their lives.
What are the symptoms of back pain?
- Back ache or sharp pain
- Pain, numbness or tingling in the leg
- Hip or knee pain
Low back pain may be exacerbated by sitting, bending, standing or walking. Dr. Paul Cooke, physiatrist at HSS, says that “Understanding and diagnosing back pain requires knowledge of the body’s kinetic chain, meaning that a problem in one area of the body can cause symptoms in another area. Defining the source of the pain and its contributing factors is integral to formulating a treatment plan and preventing recurrence.” Imaging studies like x-ray or MRI may be useful for diagnosis but are not always necessary.
What causes back pain?
Back pain can often begin without any trauma or specific precipitating event. Some causes of back pain include:
- Muscular strain
- Lumbar disc tear or herniation
- Bone fractures
- Other sources (i.e., hip/pelvis problems)
What are the treatments for back pain?
Most back pain improves over time with good conservative care. Often the simple application of ice or heat is useful.
Some of the treatment options for low back pain include:
- PHYSICAL THERAPY According to Dr. Cooke, “In many cases, physical therapy can facilitate resolution of the condition. Directed physical activity/exercise can improve symptoms and can get a person back toward their level of activity prior to the pain or injury. Education about home or gym exercises and spine mechanics may help prevent future episodes.”
- ORAL MEDICATIONS These may be over-the-counter or prescribed. A short course of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication is indicated in some cases.
- INJECTIONS Delivery of corticosteroid medication targeted to the pain generator can reduce inflammation and improve low back and leg pain. This can allow for quicker and more productive return to physical activity/exercise.
- SURGERY Some cases of back pain may involve neurologic dysfunction such as weakness and numbness. Other cases may not respond to conservative care. Evaluation with a spine surgeon may be appropriate in these situations to determine if the patient is a candidate for surgical intervention.
- OTHER TREATMENTS Acupuncture, chiropractic care and, in some cases, massage can be useful as well.
“Our goal is to get patients in to see the right spine practitioner in a timely manner. This way they can get a diagnosis and start on the road to recovery,” says Dr. Cooke.
What can be done to prevent back pain?
- POSTURE “Awareness of spine posture is key,” says Dr. Cooke. “Reducing duration of sitting and total hours sitting per day by getting up and moving at regular intervals is helpful. Improving ergonomics at the worksite can be beneficial as well.”
- PHYSICAL ACTIVITY An exercise routine, whether at the gym, in exercise classes or on your own, can help with flexibility, cardiovascular health and core muscle strengthening. Wearable activity tracker devices assist many patients in monitoring their physical activity
Join us in Stamford, CT for a FREE lecture on Oct. 23rd on Back Pain in the Active Adult: Athletes & Weekend Warriors. For more information and to register, visit www.hss.edu/pped#stamford or visit https://backpainhss_shf2019.eventbrite.com.
HSS Education Institute’s Public & Patient Education Department (PPED) offers programming on musculoskeletal conditions and other health and wellness topics for patients and the general public through community lectures, workshops, outreach programs, injury prevention programs, exercise classes, publications, and digital programming. For more information, please visit www.hss.edu/pped.
HSS HealthConnection Fast Facts, produced by the Education Institute’s Public & Patient Education Department, is a convenient resource designed to provide the public with fast, current and accurate musculoskeletal and general health information.