Have you or any member of your family recently experienced back pain? Most of us at some point experience it. Generally, people tend to take back pain lightly considering it “just another ache”. Studies have shown that back pain is one of the commonest complaints in all countries, just as common as a headache or the common cold.
The ‘back’ extends from the neck to the tailbone. It can be divided for ease of understanding into three parts – upper, middle & lower. Pain can occur in any part of the back, but the commonest is lower back pain as the entire weight of the body is borne by the lower back. The back consists of the spinal vertebrae and the joints formed by them, the vertebral discs between the vertebrae and the muscles, ligaments and the posterior rib cage.
Back pain can occur due to various reasons. It can occur while playing, while performing sports, dancing etc., or during work. It can also occur while lifting heavy objects, while bending or twisting-turning, or due to tripping, jerking, falling down or after accidents. Another cause of back pain can be psychosomatic i.e. due to stress, anxiety, depression etc. A bad posture, sedentary life or obesity can also lead to back pain.
In some, it may be due to a simple muscle spasm while in others it may be related to a slipped disc or fracture of the spinal vertebrae. It may also be associated with osteoporosis or degenerative wear and tear of the bones.
‘To treat back pain it is important to find the cause of the pain’, says Harvard-trained orthopedic surgeon Dr. Shawn Hayden based in Dallas, Texas. Since back pain is often considered as unimportant by most people, they avoid seeking an expert opinion. One should visit an orthopedic doctor for back pain to obtain professional aid. Visiting an orthopedic doctor for back pain helps you to find the exact cause of the back pain and thus follow the correct measures for treating it.
According to Dr. Hayden, the first step to diagnose the cause of the back pain is by physical examination. An orthopedic doctor for back pain will examine the back, check the possible range of motion without initiating pain and check the status of the back muscles. Along with this, the orthopedic doctor will check the arms and legs for their muscle power and joint reflexes. Along with this he will also check whether the sensations felt in the limbs are intact.
Then the orthopedic doctor for back pain may recommend an X-ray or MRI scan or CT scan depending on the need. These imaging techniques give a clear picture of the back. They show the alignment of the bones, any degenerative changes in the vertebrae, any fractures or disc displacement etc. X-rays give a general view with basic information. MRI & CT scan provides more details and along with the above information it also shows nerve problems if any in the back (1).
The treatment is decided by the orthopedist depending on the location, type, severity and the cause of the pain. The patient’s age, general health condition, occupation and activity level also plays an important role in deciding the treatment (2). In general, most cases of back pain subside in 2 to 4 weeks with basic care. In cases when there is local swelling along with pain, one is advised to use ice or cold pack applications. In cases of muscular pains, one can use heat bags for hot fomentation. An orthopedist may suggest use of painkillers or NSAIDs (Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory drugs) to relieve the pain. Whether rest is to be advised or exercises can be continued will depend on the cause of the back pain. In severe cases of back pain, one should avoid bending, lifting heavy weights and strenuous activities. In cases where back pain is related to posture, one should change the posture.
Back pain may require surgery in severe cases when it is due to disc displacement or nerve compression etc. Physical therapy is often required for non-surgical and surgical cases. It helps to decrease the stiffness, increase muscle strength and after surgery it is needed for rehabilitation.
Contributed by Dr. Rachita Narsaria, MD