Types of Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most complex and confounding conditions in medicine. There are several types of back pain, typically classified by their cause. These forms of back pain may originate in the back muscles, ligaments, and spinal structures, or even as a result of problems in other parts of the body.
Below, we’ll discuss some of the most prominent types of back pain, along with the causes of each.
Strains and Sprains
Muscle strains are one of the most common lower back pain causes. A strain is a type of injury that affects muscle or tendon tissue. Tendons attach muscle to bone.
With a strain, the affected muscle or tendon has either been pulled, torn, or twisted. This injury is usually caused by overuse, such as engaging in strenuous physical activity that your body isn’t accustomed to. For example, you may sustain a back strain if you lift more weight than your body can safely handle.
Symptoms of muscle strains include muscle weakness, inflammation, cramping, and spasms. You may also experience a reduced range of motion in the back.
A back strain can result in severe lower back pain. However, the pain will remain localized and won’t radiate down to the legs. This is in contrast to back pain caused by certain spinal conditions, which can cause pain that spreads to the extremities.
Sprains and strains are commonly mixed up as back pain types. However, while strains involve muscle or tendon tissue, sprains involve injury to a ligament. Ligaments attach bones within a joint and provide stability to that joint.
With a back sprain, the ligaments in the spine are forced out of their usual position. This is typically caused by a fall, sudden trauma, or forceful twist.
Symptoms of ligament sprains are similar to muscle strains but take longer to heal. While a mild strain typically heals within three to six weeks, a sprain may take between six to eight weeks (or even several months) to heal. If you don’t allow a back sprain to heal properly, it can give rise to chronic back pain.
Risk Factors For Back Strains and Sprains
Although anyone, at any age, can sustain a back strain or sprain, you may be at a higher risk of developing one of these injuries if you:
- Are engaging in activities that excessively curve the lower back
- Regularly engage in sports involving pulling or pushing, like football or weightlifting
- Have weak abdominal or back muscles
- Have tight hamstrings
- Are overweight or obese
Preventing Back Strains and Sprains
Back strains and sprains can hamper your day-to-day activities and cause significant pain. To reduce your risk of developing these common back injuries, follow these tips:
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
- Add exercises for lower back pain to your usual exercise regimen. These exercises focus on strengthening the abdominal muscles so that your spine is effectively supported and stabilized.
- Add stretches for lower back pain to your daily routine to prevent muscle tension and lost mobility.
- If you lift weights as part of your exercise regimen, always use proper lifting techniques. Never lift more weight than you can safely handle.
- Practice proper posture to keep your spine aligned.
- Quit smoking, which can increase your risk of the degenerative disc disease and chronic back pain.
- Consider how to sleep for lower back pain. Sleeping on your back is ideal to prevent strain on the spine while sleeping on your stomach can exacerbate back pain. However, placing a pillow under your stomach and pelvis can help align your spine if you’re a stubborn stomach-sleeper.
- In a similar vein, talk to your doctor about the best mattress for back pain, as they might have suggestions. Generally, memory foam mattresses are considered the best for aligning and supporting the spine.
Back Pain On The Right vs. Left Sides
Patients who are only experiencing pain on one side of the back often wonder about the cause of their pain. Both lower left back pain and lower right back pain can be caused by injuries to the muscles or ligaments that uphold the spine. One-sided back pain may also be triggered by spinal injuries and conditions.
However, one-sided back pain can also indicate an issue with the kidney, intestines, or reproductive organs. If this is the case, you’ll likely experience additional symptoms, such as nausea, pain while urinating, and/or fever.
Stress-Related Back Pain
Stress-related back pain isn’t an official diagnosis. But, there’s no denying that stress can play a significant role in the development of back pain.
Your body’s natural reaction to concerning, unpleasant, or scary situations is stress. When you feel stressed out, your body releases various chemicals and triggers physical reactions to protect you. These chemicals include cortisol and adrenaline, which tends to cause an involuntary tensing of your muscles.
This is a primal response that’s largely unhelpful against the stressors that people experience today, such as a deadline at work or a complicated social situation.
Frequent stress can lead to significant tension in the back. This may lead to chronic lower back pain when left unaddressed.
A 2021 study published in Scientific Reports confirmed that the severity of stress is directly correlated to chronic lower back pain. Specifically, severe stress was associated with a 2.8-fold increase in the risk of chronic lower back pain.
Spinal conditions are common types of lower back pain. Many of the most common spinal conditions trigger back pain by exerting pressure on the spinal nerves. This typically leads to what’s known as a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve can cause localized pain, much like a muscle strain, but may also involve other parts of the body.
Pinched nerves in the lower, or lumbar region of the spine, can cause burning lower back and leg pain. Surprisingly, a pinched nerve in this region can also have far-reaching effects on the bladder, appendix, large intestine, sex organs, knees, and prostate.
What Are The Most Common Spinal Conditions That Cause Back Pain?
While several different spinal conditions can trigger back pain, the most common include:
- Herniated disc
A herniated disc occurs when the soft interior of an intervertebral disc protrudes through a damaged portion of the disc interior. The injured disc may push on spinal nerves, causing back pain and other symptoms.
- Spinal stenosis
Spinal stenosis develops if the space in the spinal canal becomes more limited. This may result from thickening spinal ligaments, a bulging or herniated disc, and osteoarthritis, among other factors.
- Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease refers to symptoms of gradual, age-related spinal disc deterioration. As people grow older, the spinal discs become drier, thinner, and weaker, making them more prone to damage.
Spondylolisthesis occurs when spinal instability causes a vertebra to slip out of its normal position onto the vertebra beneath it. This can cause back pain and neurological symptoms. Although there are many possible causes of spondylolisthesis, the most common are degenerative spinal changes and spinal defects.
Osteoarthritis is also known as wear and tear arthritis. This condition occurs when the cartilage that cushions the joints starts to deteriorate. If osteoarthritis impacts the facet joints in the spine, it can lead to back pain.
When someone has scoliosis, it means that their spine is abnormally curved. This curve may cause back pain in a few different ways. It may cause spinal stenosis, disc degeneration, and facet joint damage. The curved spine can also press on nerves, leading to neurological symptoms.
What Causes Lower Back Pain From Spinal Conditions?
Several factors can lead to the development of spinal conditions that cause lower back pain. The most prevalent of these factors include age-related spinal degeneration, spinal injuries and disorders, and congenital spinal defects. To understand exactly what’s causing your lower back pain, you’ll need a diagnosis from a qualified physician.
How Are Spinal Conditions Treated?
Numerous approaches exist for lower back pain relief in patients with spinal disorders. Almost always, physicians will start with a non-surgical treatment plan for six to 12 months before considering surgery. Most patients don’t need surgery to recover from the symptoms of various spinal conditions.
Non-Surgical Treatments For Spinal Conditions
Simple rest, lifestyle modifications, medications, and physical therapy are among the beneficial non-invasive approaches to alleviate different types of lower back pain.
Surgical Treatments For Spinal Conditions
When patients continue to experience debilitating back pain after months of non-surgical treatment, surgery may be required. Additionally, spinal specialists may recommend surgery if the patient is experiencing significant disability as a result of their condition.
Thankfully, even serious spinal conditions can today be effectively treated with advanced microsurgical procedures. Innovative approaches to spinal decompression surgery use endoscopic techniques for smaller incisions, less blood loss, and less tissue damage.
Advanced, minimally-invasive spinal procedures offer relief from conditions that have condemned previous generations to crippling pain and restricted mobility.
After spinal decompression, spinal fusion is often performed to stabilize the affected portion of the spine. The fusion process involves positioning bone graft material in between the affected vertebrae. The graft will, in the months following the procedure, permanently join the adjacent vertebrae.
Though decompression spinal surgery can dramatically alleviate pain and other symptoms of compressed or pinched nerves, spinal fusion eliminates the independent motion of the fused vertebrae. This limits patients’ activities and increases the risk of degeneration in the surrounding vertebrae.
Today, the limitations of spinal fusion have been surmounted. The TOPS™ System from Premia Spine provides a clinically proven superior alternative to spinal fusion. This non-fusion spinal implant replaces the tissues removed during decompression surgery while preserving the full, independent motion of each vertebra.
If you’re experiencing back pain, don’t hesitate to see a qualified physician. You can achieve relief with the variety of treatment options available today.