Chronic back pain can interfere with your work, hobbies and family responsibilities. It can also be very challenging to treat. One of the difficulties is that there are many causes of chronic back pain. While each case is different, chronic back pain is usually diagnosed when your symptoms last for 3 or more months. Most cases of back pain affect the low back. You may need to have a physical exam, x-rays, MRI’s and other tests to help obtain an accurate diagnoses. This is important because different conditions require different treatment approaches. You and your doctor will need to work together to help form the right plan to manage your symptoms.
Sprains and Strains
Your risk of developing back pain increases with age says the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The discs in the spine start to lose fluid, which reduces the amount of cushioning there is between the vertebrae.This makes the back more susceptible to injury. You can strain or sprain the back by lifting something that is too heavy, lifting incorrectly, twisting the wrong way and using other poor work habits. Sitting for too long and staying in awkward positions when talking on the phone or working at a desk can strain the muscles and lead to pain in the low back, upper back and neck. This type of back pain, sometimes called mechanical back pain, can usually be treated by strengthening the abdominal and back muscles and by using good form when working and lifting.
In-between each vertebrae are structures called discs which have a tough outer layer and jelly-like center. If the center pushes out of place, you can develop a bulging disc. If the center pushes through enough to break the outer lining, you have a ruptured disc. Bulging and ruptured discs can be the result of age and normal wear and tear, from lifting the wrong way, an accident or a fall. Conditions such as arthritis of the spine can cause structural changes to the vertebrae which can cause the disc to push out of place. According to the Cleveland Clinic some disc injuries are minor and heal on their own with no treatment. Others require physical therapy and in severe cases you may need surgery to remove all or part of the disc.
Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis
Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are two common conditions that can cause pain in any area of the back. In the case of osteoarthritis, as the discs and cartilage between the vertebrae wear away, bony growths can form which can press on nearby muscles and nerves causing pain. Osteoporosis is a condition where the bones become frail. This can lead to tiny fractures called compression fractures in the spine which can be painful. The National Osteoporosis Society states that osteoarthritis has no cure, but there are many options available to help relieve your symptoms. Osteoporosis can be treated and sometimes reversed through proper diet and medications.
Organ Infections or Damage
In order for your body to process pain, the area that is injured needs to send signals through structures called pain receptors. There are some areas of your body that do not have their own receptors for pain. If there is a problem in one of these areas, you will feel pain nearby. This can happen with kidney disease, gall bladder problems, intestinal diseases and heart disease. Chronic back pain can also be caused by bone cancer. Any type of unexplained and persistent back pain should be evaluated by your physician to help rule out a serious illness.
About this Author
Lori Newell holds a master’s degree in health promotion from Norwich University and has been a certified personal trainer and yoga teacher for more than 25 years. She has published four books and has written articles for many sites and magazines including the “International Journal of Yoga Therapy” and eHow. Newell is the owner of Living Well Yoga and Fitness Inc.