Back pain is one of the most common presentations to any American doctor, second only to the common cold. That shouldn’t come as a surprise: around 80% of Americans will experience it at least once in their lifetime. While most back pain is the result of a sprain after a sports injury or a slip and fall, there are many causes, many types, and many treatments. The three most common types of back injuries are soft tissue injury, joint-related pain, or disc or nerve injury. Regardless of the type, it is important to be seen immediately, at which time proper testing will be performed and a treatment plan will be arranged.
Soft Tissue Injuries
The most common cause of back pain is the soft tissue injury, which results from sprains, strains and an overuse of the muscle. Soft tissue injuries are treated conservatively and as the symptoms demand. A typical treatment plan usually consists of ice for the first 48 hours along with anti-inflammatories and rest for two days. If the injury requires additional treatment, I’d add physical therapy and soft tissue modalities such as electrical stimulation. Preventative measures include muscle stretching exercises and core strengthening exercises to ensure the injury does not reoccur. Soft tissue injuries can cause pain anywhere from days to a few weeks, but with the right treatment plan, these injuries aren’t serious.
Arthritis and pressure on the joints are the primary causes for joint-related pain, which can be managed with anti-inflammatory medications. Arthritis is a degeneration of the tissue around the bone which forces the joints to rub together, causing pain. While arthritis in the back can’t be cured, the symptoms can be easily contained with the correct treatments. Beyond anti-inflammatories, a typical treatment would include stretching exercises for an improved range of motion, some light physical therapy, and cortisone injections to manage the pain. Joint-related pain in the back is not a serious condition, but it’s annoying and can be very painful.
Disc and Nerve Injuries
Disc and nerve injuries are often the most painful and longest-lasting of back injuries. These include herniated discs and pinched nerves, both of which have a wide range of causes. A simple cough can sometimes be enough to cause one. As far as treatment is concerned, disc and nerve related pain can almost always be healed with physical therapy alone, however, epidural steroid injections should be considered. The frequency of surgery in patients with this type of injury is around half a percent, but that doesn’t mean it’s something to take lightly. Disc and nerve injuries are the most serious of the three common causes of back pain. Even with the right treatment plan, you can be feeling pain from this type of injury for months.
Most patients don’t know what injury has actually occurred when they feel back pain, but no matter what kind of injury you’ve experienced, it is essential to get to the doctor as soon as possible so that treatment may begin. Proper diagnosis will result in the proper treatment, which can shorten symptoms and get you feeling better sooner.