Back Pain: A Universal Language
Part 1 of 3
The causes of back pain are nearly as numerous as terms used to describe the symptoms. Back pain is a primary reason people seek medical attention. Considering that almost 80% of the adult population will encounter some form of back pain, it could be said that back pain is a universal epidemic. Back pain recognizes no age, economic, or ethnic barriers.
Acute - Chronic - Episodic
Typically back pain originates in the neck (cervical), mid back (thoracic), low back (lumbar), or a combination such as ‘thoracolumbar pain’. Depending on the source of the pain, certain types of pain may be indicative of disease or a particular disorder.
Pain may be described as sudden, sharp, persistent, or dull. Symptoms may be localized to a specific area of the back (e.g., neck) or may radiate into the shoulders, arms, low back, buttocks, legs, and even the feet. Sometimes pain is accompanied by neurologic symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Back pain is either acute or chronic. Acute pain may begin suddenly with intense pain usually lasting a short period of time. Chronic pain is persistent long-term pain, sometimes lasting throughout life. Even chronic pain may present episodes of acute pain.
Certain neurologic symptoms may indicate the need for immediate medical attention. These ‘red flags’ include bowel or bladder dysfunction, extremity weakness or numbness, severe symptoms that do not subside after a few days, or pain that prohibits everyday activities.
A Myriad of Causes
A cause of back pain is muscle strain and spasm. Strain may result from the ‘weekend warrior syndrome’, heavy physical work, awkward bending or twisting, even poor posture.
Whiplash is neck pain, which commonly occurs following an auto accident. This is typically caused by hyperextension and/or hyperflexion because the head is forced to move backward and/or forward rapidly beyond the neck’s normal range of motion. The unnatural and forceful movement affects the muscles and ligaments in the neck. Muscles may react by tightening and contracting, creating muscle fatigue, resulting in pain and stiffness.
Spinal osteoarthritis, or spondylosis, is a degenerative disorder that may cause loss of normal spinal structure and function. Although aging is the primary cause, the location and rate of degeneration is individual. The degenerative process may impact the cervical, thoracic, and/or lumbar regions of the spine affecting the discs and spinal joints.
Osteoporosis commonly affects the thoracic and thoracolumbar regions of the spine and may cause debilitating pain. This disorder is caused by a loss of bone mineral density resulting in fragile bones, which may fracture. Osteoporosis may cause vertebral compression fractures, loss of height, stooped posture, even a humped back. The patient can control some of the risks for osteoporosis. These include poor diet, smoking, excessive intake of alcohol, and inactivity.