Chronic back pain can be persistent and excruciating pain lasting months to years. Injury, strain, structural issues, or medical conditions often contribute to this condition.
Many people worldwide suffer from this condition, irrespective of age and gender. As per a report by WHO, low back pain is the primary cause of disability. Some studies have revealed that upto 23% of the world’s adults suffer from this condition.
That’s why managing chronic back pain is essential, as it can significantly impact an individual’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. Additionally, this condition leads to decreased physical activity, muscle weakness, and reduced flexibility.
It can also cause mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, social isolation, and financial strain. However, effective back pain management can help individuals improve their quality of life, reduce disability, and regulate their expenses on medical bills. Let’s discuss the causes of chronic back pain in detail below.
Causes of Chronic Back Pain
There are several causes of chronic back pain. Some common ones are discussed below:
Degenerative Disc Disease
This condition results from wear and tear on the spinal discs. Over time, the discs lose their water content, become thinner, and lose flexibility, which leads to back stiffness or discomfort.
This condition is characterized by spinal canal narrowing and putting pressure on the nerves traveling through the spine. This pressure can cause pain, numbness, or weakness in the back, legs, or arms.
When the inner material of a spinal disc protrudes through a tear in the disc’s outer layer, herniated discs occur. People suffering from this condition experience irritation, numbness, or weakness in the back, legs, or arms.
Osteoarthritis / Spondylosis
Osteoarthritis / spondylosis is a degenerative joint disease affecting the joints in the spine. This condition is caused due to the breakdown of the cartilage cushioning the joints, which results in back pain and stiffness.
Vertebra issues among patients characterize this condition. Generally, the vertebra slips out of place onto the vertebra below it. As a result, pressure is built up on the nerves in the spine, leading to pain, numbness, or weakness in the back, legs, or arms.
This condition is caused when the sciatic nerve is disturbed or irritated. This nerve runs from the lower back down to the legs, and any irritation can cause numbness or weakness in the hands, legs, and other body parts.
Fibromyalgia is a condition resulting in widespread body pain. It is still unclear what causes this condition. However, the condition is believed to be caused by changes in how the brain.
If you are undergoing any of the conditions above, it would be best to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment of chronic back pain. Let’s discuss the diagnoses of chronic back pain in detail below.
Diagnoses of Chronic Back Pain
Doctors usually consider the medical history, physical examination, imaging tests, and blood tests to diagnose the causes of chronic back pain. So, let’s discuss these in detail below.
Considering the Medical History
The first step is to take a detailed medical history. The medical professional will ask questions about the pain’s onset, duration, location, and severity.
They may also inquire about previous injuries, medical conditions, or surgeries contributing to the pain. Hence, providing as much information as possible to the doctor is important to help guide the diagnostic process.
Conducting Physical Examination
After taking the medical history, the doctor will perform a physical examination, which involves checking the range of motion, flexibility, and muscle strength. The doctor may also perform tests to evaluate specific conditions, such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.
These tests can provide insights into the spine’s structure and surrounding tissues. Generally, common imaging tests can help diagnose chronic back pain, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans. The tests can help identify fractures, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis.
Finally, blood tests can help rule out any lingering medical condition that causes back pain. For instance, a blood test can offer details about an infection or inflammation, if any, or test for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis.
By combining these different diagnoses, doctors can identify the underlying cause of the pain and develop a suitable treatment plan to relieve symptoms and improve the overall quality of life.
Treatments for Chronic Back Pain
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: NSAIDs are commonly used to treat pain, inflammation, and fever. These medications reduce the production of prostaglandins (chemicals contributing to pain and inflammation). NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Acetaminophen: It is an over-the-counter fever reducer or reliever that minimizes the production of prostaglandins in the brain. Unlike NSAIDs, acetaminophen does not have anti-inflammatory properties.
Muscle relaxants: These relaxants treat muscle spasms and tightness causing pain and inflammation. These work by reducing muscle tone and relaxing muscles.
Antidepressants: Tricyclic antidepressants and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) can help treat chronic pain. These antidepressants increase the neurotransmitter levels in the brain to reduce pain signals.
Physical Therapy: Therapeutic relief strategies such as stretches and other techniques can help mobility and reduce pain. The patients also benefit from heat, cold, and electrical stimulation, reducing pain and inflammation.
Exercise: Aerobic and strength training can improve physical function and reduce pain. Additionally, these can also help reduce stress and improve your mood.
Massage Therapy: This therapy involves applying pressure to the muscles and soft tissues to improve circulation, reduce tension, and promote relaxation.
Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate nerves and promote healing. It can be effective in treating chronic pain.
Nerve Blocks: Nerve blocks involve injecting medication into or around nerves to block pain signals. They can be effective in treating certain types of chronic pain.
Surgery: Surgery may sometimes be necessary to treat chronic pain. For example, surgery may be used to correct structural problems, such as herniated discs, causing pain.
Other Treatments: Alternative treatment options for chronic pain include cognitive-behavioral therapy, biofeedback, and relaxation techniques. These treatments can help patients learn how to manage pain and reduce stress.
Chronic back pain is a prevalent health problem affecting millions worldwide. It can significantly impact an individual’s quality of life, daily activities, and work productivity. While there is no single cure for chronic back pain, early diagnosis, and treatment can significantly improve outcomes.
Early diagnosis of chronic back pain is crucial as it allows healthcare providers to identify the underlying cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Delayed diagnosis and treatment can lead to more severe pain and additional complications, including physical and psychological distress.
To sum up, early diagnosis and treatment are crucial in managing chronic back pain. A comprehensive approach that combines medical treatment, lifestyle modifications, and psychological interventions can significantly improve outcomes for individuals with chronic back pain.