If you’ve ever woken up with back pain, you’ll understand how debilitating it can be.
Back pain may interfere with your:
- exercise; and
- job performance.
Lower back pain is the single most common complaint made by patients to their doctors with an estimated 80 per cent of the population suffering back pain at some point in their life. The AINHW found that as many as 1 in 6 Australians were suffering from back pain in 2017-18 – that is 4 million people!
There are various types of back pain, with a wide range of causes. In this article, we’ll explain eight of the most common causes of back pain – as well as their treatment options.
1. Disc degeneration (Bulging Or Slipped Disc)
Disc degeneration may appear as a bulging or slipped disc on imaging where one of the soft, spongy discs cushioning the vertebrae will appear to protrude out of position.
In many cases, a physical exam and medical history are all that is required to make a diagnosis.
In some instances, your physician may schedule an MRI to confirm the location of the herniated disk and to see which nerves are affected.
However, it is important to note that disc degeneration may not always be the source of pain, and it could be a normal process of natural wear and tear. It is important to consult with one of our spine consultants to determine whether the disc bulge is the true cause of your symptoms.
Typically, conservative treatment plans, which avoid painful positions and follow a structured physiotherapy regimen, may relieve most people’s symptoms within a few weeks.
2. Pinched Nerve
A pinched nerve occurs when a nerve is compressed by surrounding tissues, such as bones, muscles or tendons.
If your doctor suspects a pinched nerve, they may run a nerve conduction study to identify any damaged nerves. Alternatively, they may use diagnostic tests such as an EMG or MRI to check for damage to the nerves leading to the muscle or for nerve root compression.
This investigation is necessary because other problems can cause similar symptoms to pinched nerve pain. Conditions such as hip flexor muscle strain, sacroiliac joint dysfunction or abdominal muscle strain can all be misdiagnosed as a pinched nerve without a nerve conduction test. This could lead to treatments that are not targeted at the true cause of the symptoms.
The most common treatment for a pinched nerve is rest.
If rest is not enough, a physiotherapist can recommend exercises that may help to relieve pressure on the nerve by strengthening and stretching the muscles in the affected area and identifying underlying causes.
Arthritis refers to swelling or tenderness in one or more joints, and there is a range of different types of arthritis with varying causes and symptoms. Some types of arthritis such as osteoarthritis can cause back pain, most commonly in the lower back.
To determine if back pain is caused by arthritis, a healthcare professional will typically perform a physical exam, and order tests such as an MRI and X-ray to diagnose the condition if necessary.
Arthritis is very difficult to self-diagnose, so it is important to see a healthcare professional to have it properly investigated.
Treatment for back pain caused by arthritis often involves staying active and healthy and restoring as much natural function and movement as possible. A physiotherapist can work with you to create an exercise program. An appropriately targeted exercise program may help to take pressure off lower back muscles and reduce pain. Other treatment includes:
– medication aimed at reducing pain or inflammation
– heat treatment
– massage therapy
The management of arthritis varies depending on the cause and symptoms, so it is best to consult a healthcare provider for specific advice.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes brittle, weak bones, usually as a result of a vitamin D or calcium deficiency or hormonal changes. This can lead to numerous fractures, including compression fractures in the spine.
Osteoporosis is often not diagnosed until a fracture is discovered, but it is estimated that 924,000 Australians have osteoporosis. To diagnose osteoporosis, your bone density is measured using a machine that employs low-level x-rays to identify the mineral content in your bones.
If you suspect you may have osteoporosis, you should talk to your medical provider as soon as possible. If you have already been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it is important to speak with a qualified physiotherapist.
Prescribed exercises from a physiotherapist can prevent osteoarthritis by improving bone density and balance. At the Brisbane Spine Clinic, we can support you to develop a weight-bearing exercise plan that is designed specifically for your needs.
5. Referred Pain
Referred pain occurs when pain in an area is felt as a result of pain or an injury in another part of the body.
For example, pain from a kidney stone may cause pain in the lower back. Referred pain could also arise from a structural problem such as a compressed nerve, where the pain is being felt in another location to the problem itself.
Your brain may struggle to identify the specific source of referred pain. An experienced spinal consultant can usually distinguish referred pain caused by a compressed spinal nerve during a physical exam. At The Brisbane Spine Clinic, we see many cases of misdiagnosis and are skilled at identifying the underlying cause of pain.
Treatment for referred pain depends on the cause. It may involve pain management techniques such as rest, ice and heat packs and physical therapy including active exercises and stretches. However, if the underlying cause can be treated, we will aim to treat that cause, to help resolve the pain.
The sciatic nerve runs from the lower back and down the back of each leg.
When this nerve is pinched, it can create severe lower back pain together with a sharp pain in one or both legs. Coughing, sneezing and prolonged sitting can aggravate symptoms.
Typically treatment usually includes resting the back, icing the lower back and medication for pain relief. Although most people recover from sciatica within a couple of weeks, physiotherapy is also a common treatment. Physical therapy and prescribed exercises can help to strengthen and mobilse tissues in the thighs, buttocks, abdomen and lower back.
Dry needling is another technique that can be used in your treatment plan.
Please consult our spine consultant here at The Brisbane Spine Clinic if your sciatica symptoms are not going away.
Carrying extra weight during pregnancy can put a lot of strain on the back, and hormonal changes can also contribute to pain and discomfort in the lower back. It’s estimated that as many as 50% of pregnant people experience pregnancy-related lower back pain. The two most common types of back pain in pregnancy are pelvic girdle pain and lumbar pain.
Treatments for low back pain during pregnancy include wearing belly bands or belts, hydrotherapy, using a pillow to maintain a good position in your lower back while sleeping on your side, and resting your feet on a small stool to relax the back muscles.
Methods of alleviating pain often work best when combined with physical therapy exercises designed to strengthen back and abdominal muscles during the first and second trimesters. Physiotherapists can also advise on helpful activities to help to prevent and reduce back pain throughout the first, second and third trimesters.
We recommend seeing a physiotherapist throughout your pregnancy for support.
This chronic pain condition creates fatigue, discomfort and tenderness to the touch in the back and throughout the body. While its cause is not fully understood, research indicates that fibromyalgia may be the result of the body becoming extra sensitive to pain due to an overactive pain system, and that genetics plays a strong role.
In diagnosing fibromyalgia, doctors look for common signs among patients, including widespread pain and tenderness lasting more than three months.
Potential treatments for fibromyalgia largely focus on symptom management.
Fibromyalgia may be treated with:
- medications that aim to reduce pain and calm the nervous system, such as anticonvulsants.
- balancing activity with rest
- stretches and yoga to release sore muscles
- exercise – our practitioners can help you to develop an individualised treatment plan that helps you to exercise without exacerbating the pain too much
- Massage therapy
When To Seek Help
Some back pain symptoms may disappear over time. However, you should see our spine consultant or your doctor if you experience:
Back pain that wakes you at night
- pain following an injury
- unexplained weight loss
Seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- Loss of feeling
- Loss of bowel or bladder function
How can The Brisbane Spine Clinic help?
At The Brisbane Spine Clinic, we have chiropractors and physiotherapists who are experienced in the treatment of back pain. We are knowledgeable about the many possible causes of back pain and will take the time to identify the underlying cause of your discomfort and work to address the root cause of your pain, rather than treat only the symptoms.
Call us today on 07 3841 3070 to discuss how our approach may alleviate your back pain symptoms or to book an appointment.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The Brisbane Spine Clinic can consult with you to confirm if this treatment is right for you.