Back pain is on the rise, and approximately eight out of every ten Americans will experience back problems sometime in their life. Back pain can range from mildly irritating to completely immobilizing, and can really affect your everyday life. Back pain can affect the lower back, the middle back, upper back, or cause sciatica. There are many causes of back pain, and different treatment options available. Read on to learn more about back pain, and what you can do if you are suffering.
Low Back Pain
The low back is classified as the part of the back below the ribcage, and is also called the lumbar region. If you have low back pain, you may experience a dull ache or a stabbing or shooting pain. If your back pain comes on suddenly, you may have injured your back from sports or heavy lifting. If your low back pain lasts more than three months it is considered chronic. You should visit your doctor if you have had an injury, or if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms: loss of bowel or bladder control, fever, pain when coughing, or leg weakness. A job where you do a lot of heavy lifting can put your back at risk, as can a desk job where you are sitting all day. Carrying a heavy bag, especially only on one shoulder, can strain your back. In addition to an injury, being overweight and an inactive lifestyle can both contribute to low back pain. Thankfully, though low back pain can be extremely painful, it is rarely permanent or cause for great concern. If you are experiencing low back pain you can take warm baths, use a heating pad, or take pain relievers to be more comfortable. Even though you may feel like you want to stay in bed, movement is actually one of the best things for low back pain. Massage and chiropractic can help with the lower back pain, and exercises like yoga that strengthen and increase flexibility can prevent future injury. To avoid low back pain, stay at a healthy weight, lift with your legs, don’t slouch, and stay active!
Upper and Middle Back Pain
Upper and middle back pain affects the base of your neck to the bottom of your ribcage. This area contains 12 vertebrae and various connecting muscles and make up the longest part of your back. While this form of back pain is not as common as low back pain, it can still impact your daily life. Upper and middle back pain can be dull, sharp, or burning, and can make you feel stiff. Like low back pain, upper and middle back pain can result from improper lifting, an injury, poor posture, or being overweight. A more modern day cause of this type of back pain is American’s constant use of screens, be it phones, tablets, computers, or TV screens. Using ice initially to relieve any swelling, and taking over the counter pain medication can make you more comfortable. Walking and stretching are also helpful for upper and middle back pain. Your upper back does not experience as much movement and instability as the low back does, and many of the common spinal disorders do not develop in these areas. Massage, chiropractic, and acupuncture can all help with upper and middle back pain.
While sciatica originates in the back, you feel the pain radiating along the sciatic nerve that branches from the lower back down each leg. Sciatica often follows a path from the low back to the buttock and then to the back of the thigh and calf. This pain can be a mild ache, or a sharp burning, excruciating pain, or even feel like an electric shock. It can be made worse by coughing or sneezing, and sitting can make it much worse. Sciatica usually only affects one side of your body. While mild sciatica usually goes away over time, if you are in extreme pain it is time to see your practitioner. Sciatica occurs because the sciatic nerve becomes pinched, this can result from a herniated disk or an overgrowth of bone on the vertebrae. Treating sciatica with anti-inflammatory medication, cold or heat, and stretching can usually offer some relief.
Back Pain Warning Signs
Most back pain is benign, and will go away either on its own, or with some exercise and time. But there are times when back pain can be more serious, and you should seek medical attention. If you have any incontinence, or numbness in the groin area, or an accident that had enough force to fracture your spine, you should head to your practitioner right away. Likewise, if your back pain is not severe, but you have been experiencing it for more than six weeks, it is getting worse, or you have any of the following “red flags”, you should head to your medical professional’s office:
- Light tapping of spine is painful
- Fever or chills
- Unexplained weight loss
- Numbness or tingling in legs
- Difficulty urinating
- Foot drop (toe that drags)
While back pain can be scary, it is rarely cause for great concern. If you are having back pain you are worried about, or it is not getting better, see your friendly nurse practitioners at American Health Specialist clinic in Flint. We would love to help you get to the bottom of your back pain, and give you great suggestions on how to manage your pain and avoid back pain in the future. Call us today to schedule an appointment!