What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain, especially lower back pain, is unfortunately common. Muscle, ligament, nerve, and spine injuries are frequent causes of this pain. Additionally, poor posture, degenerative diseases like arthritis, and regular wear and tear can also cause back pain. At Greater Austin Pain Center, we carefully identify the root causes of every patient’s pain and find personalized solutions.
A medical examination is necessary to identify the cause of your back pain in order to determine the appropriate course of treatment. The majority of people with back pain find relief with non-surgical treatments. However, for a small number of people with low back pain, symptoms persist, and surgery can be an effective treatment.
Many of the common back pain issues encountered stem from the lumbar spine, which is located in your lower back. Curving below your waist, the lumbar spine connects your upper body (head, trunk, and arms) to your lower body. Strong ligaments and muscles connect to your spinal column, providing back stability and movement.
Your spinal cord and spinal nerves at the lumbar level send signals for sensation and movement between your brain and lower body muscles. The spinal cord tapers near the first lumbar vertebra (L1) and forms a group of nerves called the cauda equina. This nerve group is involved with regulating bowel and bladder functions.
Six intervertebral discs are located between the vertebrae in your lumbar spine. The discs are made up of strong connective tissue, with a tough outer layer is called the annulus fibrosus. Their gel-like center is called the nucleus pulposus. The discs and two small spinal facet joints connect vertebrae to each other. The discs and joints allow movement, provide stability, and cushion from impact.
Types of Back Pain by Location
Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain is one of the most debilitating conditions you can experience. It can make simple tasks like sitting or standing difficult. Unfortunately, because the lower back is relatively mobile yet supports a significant weight, lower back injuries are common.
Lower back pain can be caused by soft tissue damage, pulled muscles, improper alignment, or even broken vertebrae. Yet, the most frequent culprit behind lower back pain is muscle strain. This seemingly banal injury can be extremely painful.
Lower Spine Anatomy
Your lower back, or lumbar spine, is located between your lowest rib and the upper part of your buttock. It is composed of five vertabrae, L1 through L5. Most of the lumbar spine’s motion occurs in its upper region, between vertebra L4 and L5. For this reason, these two segments are the most probable to be a source of pain.
Mid and Upper Back Pain
Mid and upper back pain is often the result of poor posture, muscle overuse, and lifting objects with poor technique. Other causes, including herniated discs, vertebral fractures, or degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis are also possible. Even when the pain originated from an injury, the specific source of pain within the body can be elsewhere.
Mid and upper back injuries are less common than lower back ones because it’s responsible for supporting less of your body’s weight. Still, they can be just as painful and should be taken just as seriously.
Mid and Upper Spine Anatomy
The mid and upper part of your back, known as the thoracic spine, is the longest part of your spine. The thoracic spine has 12 vertebrae, numbered from T1 through T12, which provide attachments for your rib cage and stability for your upper body.
- Abnormalities in soft tissues
- Compressed, pinched, or irritated nerves
- Bone spurs
- Narrowing of spinal canal (stenosis)
- Degeneration of discs
- Herniated discs
- Misaligned vertebrae
- Pain through back, legs, buttocks, and feet
- Weakness/numbness in lower extremities
- Loss of bladder and/or bowel control (Cauda Equina Syndrome)
- Imaging studies (X-ray, CT scan, MRI, and more)
- Non-surgical methods: facet injections, spinal cord stimulation, compression fractures
- Surgery for serious conditions: laminectomy, discectomy, spinal fusion
- Physical therapy
Back Pain Treatment in Austin, Kyle, Dripping Springs
The treatment for low back pain depends on its cause, severity, and duration. The majority of low back symptoms are treatable with pain medications, short periods of rest, and exercise. Physical therapists at Greater Austin Pain Center can provide treatments to reduce pain and frequency of muscle spasms. They will show you exercises to gently stretch and strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, while also showing you proper postures or body mechanics to use during movements.
The majority of low back symptoms are treatable with pain medications, short periods of rest, and exercise.
At Greater Austin Pain Center, our team is dedicated to helping you explore all of your treatment options such as:
Epidural Steroid Injections (ESIs)
Short, outpatient treatment injections that provide pain relief in the cervical, lumbar, thoracic spine
Facet Joint Injections
Joint injections that anesthetize the facet joints and block pain
Back Pain FAQs
How to Prevent Back Pain
The best way to prevent back pain is to live a healthy life. This means abstaining from smoking, getting regular exercise, and eating nutritious foods. As you get older, it’s important to avoid repetitive lifting/bending activities on a daily basis, so lifting heavy weights during exercise can be substituted for additional reps. Even though you can be injured during exercise, it regulates your body’s metabolism and can also prevent injuries and help you recover faster when they do happen.
The most essential element for a healthy spine is always a strong core. Without a strong core, your body doesn’t work as efficiently, resulting in unnecessary strain on your spine.
What to do for Back Pain
The first step in relieving your back pain is seeing your pain doctor. They can diagnose you and provide you with treatment like injections, imaging, spinal cord stimulation, and possibly surgery. The less invasive treatment options not yet prescribed will always be tried first to see if there is any benefit.
Exercises for Lower Back Pain
It goes against intuition, but it’s actually most useful to remain active after a back injury. Staying active improves flexibility and blood flow in your back, helping it heal. That being said, being active doesn’t mean to push yourself so hard that you’re in more pain. Try to find activities that are relatively pain-free, like yoga or swimming.
Being prepared for your appointment with a list of questions can help you get the most out of it. You might find it useful to ask questions like:
- Are there symptoms I should be aware of that could indicate a more serious condition?
- Do I need diagnostic tests?
- I have other medical conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- How long will I need treatment?
- How long will it take before I notice a reduction in back pain?
- What can I do to prevent back pain recurring?
Causes of Chronic Back Pain
Back pain is an unpleasant sensation triggered in the nervous system to warn you that something is wrong. It’s your body telling you that you need take better care of yourself. When acute back pain continues for months or even years, it’s usually because its root cause is ongoing and not being properly treated. Because back pain can be caused by conditions in other parts of the body, it is sometimes difficult to identify its origin.
There are numerous types of back surgeries for treating back pain. They can even be used in combination to achieve the best results. The goal of back surgery is to reduce pressure on a compressed nerve, to secure vertebrae, or to improve a deformity like scoliosis.
- Spinal fusion: joining of two or more vertebrae using a section of bone to stabilize and strengthen your spine
- Discectomy: removal of herniated or prolapsed disc material that is pressing on your nerve in the spine
- Laminectomy: removal of a section of bone from one of your vertebrae that’s compressing a nerve in your spine
Am I At Risk?
If you have been consistently experiencing back pain (especially in the lumbar region) and you have noticed any of the above symptoms, please contact the Greater Austin Pain Center without delay. We look forward to scheduling an appointment with you, or simply just answering your questions about pain management.