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Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Back pain is discomfort and pain caused by injury or illness between the shoulders and the hips.

Back pain is not a disease, but a symptom of various medical conditions, such as osteoporosis, sciatica, and general muscle strain.

65 million adults report a recent bout of acute (short-term) back pain, and 16 million suffer from chronic (persistent) back pain. Adults with back pain earn less income and spend more on healthcare than their counterparts without back pain.

Instead of living with back pain, improve your overall quality of life by getting your back pain treated. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean you have to live with it!

Let’s cover the common causes, risk factors, and the best treatment options for back pain.

What Causes Back Pain?

The most common causes of back pain are:

What causes back pain in females? These are conditions that cause back pain that apply more to women than men:

Risk Factors for Back Pain

What are the risk factors for back pain?

  1. Poor posture
  2. Older age
  3. Obesity, excess weight
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Heavy lifting, especially when it’s part of your occupation
  6. Sedentary lifestyle
  7. Smoking
  8. Pregnancy
  9. Genetics

Back Pain Symptoms

Here are the symptoms you may feel when you have back pain:

How do I know if my back pain is serious? Your back pain is serious if it is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  1. Incontinence
  2. Fever
  3. Unexplained weight loss
  4. Severe stomach pain
  5. Pain in both legs, instead of just one
  6. Issues with balance

Back pain should also be considered serious if it occurs shortly after an injury or accident (car accident, sports-related injury, fall, etc.).

Diagnosis for Back Pain 

Most healthcare professionals will ask about symptoms and perform a physical examination, medical history, and family history. But to diagnose the cause of your back pain, tests are often required.

Doctors tend to use the following tests to diagnose back pain:

How do you know if back pain is in the muscles or discs? Back pain is muscle-related if your back hurts more when you’re moving than when you’re still. Back pain is disc-related if moving relieves pain, if bending forward hurts more than returning to an upright position, and if pain radiates past your buttocks into your legs.

Treatment for Back Pain

What can I do to relieve my back pain? These 9 treatment options can relieve back pain:

  1. Chiropractic care
  2. Physical therapy
  3. Lifestyle changes
  4. Over-the-counter medication
  5. Prescription medications
  6. Injections
  7. Acupuncture
  8. Massage therapy
  9. Surgery

Always seek medical advice before you take back pain treatment into your own hands.

1. Chiropractic Care

Also called manual spinal manipulation, chiropractic care is a treatment plan in which a chiropractor adjusts spinal alignment and mobilizes the surrounding muscles and joints. 

Chiropractic care has been shown to effectively reduce back pain and neck pain.

Research indicates that chiropractic care is better and more cost-effective than taking medicine and/or visiting a primary care physician.

Chiropractors leave their patients feeling less pain, less disabled, less dependent on drugs, and more satisfied.

Different chiropractors may have different methods. At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we employ gentle spinal manipulations mainly to the upper spine. We do not treat our patients like rag dolls. Our approach is gentle enough for newborns and grandmas.

2. Physical Therapy

Also called physiotherapy, physical therapy for back pain sufferers uses stretches and exercises that improve posture and musculoskeletal strength.

Physical therapists also help to prevent future injuries through patient education and core muscle strengthening.

The stretches and exercises you learn may be difficult to remember if you are experiencing little or no pain. And once the pain comes back, it could take at least a day for the stretches and exercises to alleviate your pain.

So it’s important to remember to do your stretches and exercises learned at physical therapy, even if you aren’t experiencing back pain at that moment.

Also, obesity and excess weight are risk factors for low back pain. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight.

3. Lifestyle Changes

The following lifestyle changes may relieve or prevent back pain:

  1. Quit smoking.
  2. Eat healthy, to maintain healthy body weight.
  3. Exercise, but not high-resistance. Swimming is great for the spine.
  4. Do not sit for long periods of time.
  5. Sit with good posture.
  6. Lift with your legs/knees, not your back.
  7. Get plenty of high-quality sleep, according to health information from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.
  8. If you are depressed, seek medical advice. Depression and low back pain are associated with one another, though it is unclear which causes which.
  9. Reduce your daily stress levels. Not only does stress increase your awareness of pain, but stress can also cause tension and strain in your back muscles leading to back pain.

4. Over-the-Counter Medications

Many experts recommend pain-relieving pharmaceuticals to “treat” back pain. This is a pretty medieval solution to a complex problem.

I suggest identifying the root cause of back pain and treating that root cause, so you don’t have to take side effect-laden drugs.

Acetaminophen can relieve acute low back pain. Studies show it works moderately better than a placebo for back pain. Side effects include abdominal pain, nausea, changes in appetite, headaches, yellowing of the skin, and dark urine.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen treat inflammation, which is often involved in back pain. Side effects of NSAIDs include stomach ulcers, indigestion, stomach aches, diarrhea, headaches, drowsiness, and dizziness.

These pain medications are for pain management only and should not be used for long-term treatment of back pain.

5. Prescription Medications

Doctors may prescribe you prescription medications, including extra-strength acetaminophen or NSAIDs.

They may also prescribe opioids, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, which interact with receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain to reduce pain.

However, you may have heard of the opioid epidemic. Opioids are famously over-prescribed and incredibly addictive.

Muscle relaxants reduce pain for a short period of time. But they are only recommended for back pain sufferers who also experience muscle spasms. The most common side effect is drowsiness.

Prescription antidepressants may relieve back pain even if the patient is not depressed. Antidepressants may lead to nausea, sexual dysfunction, fatigue, insomnia, diarrhea or constipation, and increased appetite/weight gain.

6. Injections

There are various injections your doctor may administer to treat back pain, depending on the root cause:

7. Acupuncture

Acupuncture is the strategic insertion of filiform needles into trigger points to relieve back pain and other conditions.

Acupuncture works better than a placebo at treating chronic low back pain.

Dry needling is a modern, evidence-based practice very similar to acupuncture, except it is solely based on scientific research, not ancient traditional medicine.

8. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is when a licensed professional manually manipulates muscles and soft tissues for stress reduction and pain relief.

A massage should help ease tense or overworked muscles, a common cause of back pain.

If back strain is causing your back pain and it isn’t going away, look for a highly-qualified massage therapist today.

9. Surgery

Surgical options are a last resort for most adults suffering from back pain. They may be necessary due to structural issues that cause pain, such as those resulting from an injury.

7 common surgeries for back pain:

  1. Spinal fusion
  2. Laminectomy (AKA spinal decompression)
  3. Discectomy
  4. Disc replacement
  5. Foraminotomy
  6. Vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty
  7. Nucleoplasty (AKA plasma disk decompression)

How to Prevent Back Pain

9 helpful tips on how to prevent back pain:

  1. Stretch every morning and before doing any physical activity.
  2. Regularly do low-impact aerobic exercises. These improve your back pain in the short-term. They also help you maintain a healthy weight in the long-term, which is important since excess weight is a major risk factor for back pain.
  3. Build muscle strength, particularly in your core around your lower back.
  4. Quit smoking. It increases your risk of low back pain, possibly because nicotine more quickly degrades your discs.
  5. Try not to sit for long periods of time. Prolonged sitting often leads to back pain.
  6. Practice good posture. Practice a little bit each day, and eventually good posture will be second nature to you.
  7. Avoid heavy lifting. Do not apply to jobs which require constant heavy lifting.
  8. Lift with your legs, if you must lift. Keep the back straight and only bend at the knees.
  9. Try yoga. It promotes good posture and strengthens important core muscles.

Back pain can be brought on or worsened by sitting for long periods of time. The best way to combat it is to practice daily stretches to counteract a sedentary lifestyle and prevent chronic or acute back pain.

When to See A Doctor 

When should I be worried about lower back pain? You should be worried about lower back pain only if:

Seek immediate medical attention if your back pain accompanies fever, unexplained weight loss, or new issues with your bladder or bowels. These may indicate a serious condition.

If back pain pops up after a fall or a traumatic injury, visit your doctor ASAP.

Upper back pain is associated with an increased risk of kidney problems or cancer, more so than lower back pain.

On any given day, it is estimated 12% of human beings are experiencing low back pain. Just because it’s normal doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek treatment. Fortunately, back pain can often be treated with chiropractic care.

Click here to set up your appointment with Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Our patients’ success stories speak for themselves. (We reserve Fridays for out of town patients.)

New patient? Click here to learn what to expect and how to move forward.

Sources

  1. Bussières, A. E., Gauthier, C. A., Fournier, G., & Descarreaux, M. (2020). RE: Spinal Manipulative Therapy for Low Back Pain–Time for an update. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5597007/
  2. Bryans, R., Decina, P., Descarreaux, M., Duranleau, M., Marcoux, H., Potter, B., … & White, E. (2014). Evidence-based guidelines for the chiropractic treatment of adults with neck pain. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 37(1), 42-63. Full text: https://www.jmptonline.org/article/S0161-4754(13)00237-6/fulltext
  3. Liu, L., Skinner, M., McDonough, S., Mabire, L., & Baxter, G. D. (2015). Acupuncture for low back pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4364128/
  4. Shi, Z., Zhou, H., Lu, L., Pan, B., Wei, Z., Yao, X., … & Feng, S. (2018). Aquatic exercises in the treatment of low back pain: a systematic review of the literature and meta-Analysis of eight studies. American journal of physical medicine & rehabilitation, 97(2), 116-122. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28759476/
  5. Robertson, D., Kumbhare, D., Nolet, P., Srbely, J., & Newton, G. (2017). Associations between low back pain and depression and somatization in a Canadian emerging adult population. The journal of the canadian chiropractic association, 61(2), 96. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5596967/
  6. Liu, L., Skinner, M., McDonough, S., Mabire, L., & Baxter, G. D. (2015). Acupuncture for low back pain: an overview of systematic reviews. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4364128/
  7. Green, B. N., Johnson, C. D., Snodgrass, J., Smith, M., & Dunn, A. S. (2016). Association between smoking and back pain in a cross-section of adult Americans. Cureus, 8(9). Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5081254/
  8. Mabry, L. M., Ross, M. D., & Tonarelli, J. M. (2014). Metastatic cancer mimicking mechanical low back pain: a case report. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 22(3), 162-169. Full text: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4101555/
  9. Hoy, D., Bain, C., Williams, G., March, L., Brooks, P., Blyth, F., … & Buchbinder, R. (2012). A systematic review of the global prevalence of low back pain. Arthritis & Rheumatism, 64(6), 2028-2037. Abstract: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22231424/
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Click here to view our glowing patient testimonials. Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic delivers results when conventional doctors say it’s impossible.

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Based on 139 reviews.

Dr.Ty Carzoli is extremely professional, punctual and informative. The office is clean and organized. My treatments from him have allowed me to think towards the future, not just day to day. Overall, a great experience!

Leslie Goodman

I absolutely LOVE going to Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic. Dr. Ty knows his stuff and I've never felt better. His style of chiropractic care has improved my sleeping, mood, and fitness capacity. Plus, they are really great at making me feel appreciated. See super sweet picture from my birthday. I would HIGHLY recommend giving them a try, but only if you really want to improve how you feel.

Carla Streff

Overall, I didn’t necessarily feel that I had any particular issues other than a prior shoulder injury that slightly bothered me when I exercised with a heavy set of weights. I felt fairly energetic due to the typical routine of exercise and eating a well balanced healthy diet. The idea for my treatment was to be more proactive about my long term health and ensure that I was in proper alignment.
After my initial consultation, I found out my body was out of alignment more than I felt. I did not feel much different after the first few adjustments; however, what I did not realize until a few weeks in is that I had been waking up prior to treatment with kind of a groggy kind of feeling. After years of waking up like this I assumed this was just the norm. I now have been waking up with little fatigue and grogginess (even with a 10 month old baby) and a new burst of revitalization even if I did not get a full 8 hours of sleep. The feeling of being excited the day before a trip has been occurring on the standard day getting up for work. My workouts have also seen an improvement with the new improved energy levels as well as the standard weight I typically lift went up with little efforts.
Dr. Ty is extremely knowledgeable about what he does and would not think about using anyone else for my care. I love walking into the awesome environment that Dr. Ty has established and the overall care that comes from the visits. Dr. Ty and his fantastic staff has an amazing energy that I very much look forward to when visiting the office!
Even if you think that you have a good alignment, you should be sure to visit Dr. Ty for a great proactive health care plan!

Derek Greer

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Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic | 303-955-8270