Spine Conditions and Back Pain

Back pain competes with the common cold as the leading reason why people see a doctor. It's the number-one cause of disability in workers under age 45.

The good news is that while back problems are often painful and distressing, very few people have major problems with the bones or joints of the back. And for those who do, there are very effective treatments to help deal with them.

About The Back
The back consists of a complex arrangement of bone, ligaments, joints, muscles, and nerves. Pain can result from problems with any of these. Some of the more common reasons for back pain include:

  • Stress and strain of daily activities, such as lifting or twisting
  • Advancing age
  • Conditions such as osteoporosis or spinal stenosis
  • Lack of exercise and poor muscle tone
  • Trauma from an accident

In general, back pain is considered more serious if it:

  • Wakes a person from sleep
  • Occurs along with an inability to control urine or stools
  • Is accompanied by unexplained fever or weight loss
  • Occurs in someone with a history of cancer

Common Causes Of Back Pain

  • Strains - A strain is the result of a heavy load or sudden force applied to the muscles before they are ready for activity. The muscle tissue, and blood vessels within it, can actually get torn.
  • Sprains - A sprain is an over-stretching of one or more of the ligaments of the back. Sprains and strains can occur at the same time.
  • Sciatica - A term used to describe pain extending down into the buttock and leg from the irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is a large nerve that runs down the spine.
  • Disc injury - This occurs when one of the discs of the spine – either a cervical or a lumbar disc – bulges out from its position between two vertebra.
  • Spinal stenosis - In this condition, which usually affects people over age 50, there is a narrowing of the spinal canal that often is caused by degeneration, osteoarthritis, or bony growths in the spine.
  • Osteoarthritis - This is joint damage that results from "wear and tear" of the cartilage that cushions the vertebra.
  • Spondylolisthesis - A condition in which one vertebra slips forward on the one beneath it.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis - A type of arthritis that affects the spine.
  • Osteoporosis and bone fractures - A condition in which bones become weak and can break easily.
  • Tumors or infection - These can be serious problems but are very rare.
  • Scoliosis - This is a condition in which a person’s spine curves from side to side. Treatment includes wearing a back brace or, in some cases, surgery to correct the curving.

Treatment For Back Pain
Treatment depends on the condition that is causing the pain. Nonsurgical treatments for back pain include:

  • Heat and cold applied to the back
  • Exercise
  • Physical therapy
  • Manipulation or realignment of the spine
  • Epidural steroid injections
  • Medication

Back surgery is performed when nonsurgical treatments fail or if the pain is caused by a condition that can only be corrected surgically. Types of back surgery include:

  • Surgery to remove a disc that is causing a problem
  • Surgery to stabilize the spine, in which a disc is removed and bone grafts are used to fuse the adjacent bones together
  • Surgery to create more space in the spine, to take pressure off of the nerves and spinal cord