There are 24 jointed bones (vertebrae) in your back. Facet joints connect each vertebra and wrap around and protect your spinal cord. Discs cushion the vertebrae. The entire Lumbar structure is further enmeshed tightly in ligaments and supported by muscles.
Back Pain can result when any one of these components is injured, strained or degenerates due to disease or age. If you suffer back pain, you are not alone. Nearly 8 of every 10 adults between ages 20 and 45 have suffered from some form of back pain.
Acute vs. Chronic Pain
It is difficult to quantify the intensity of pain. Every individual experiences pain differently and we each tolerate pain to varying degrees. We can divide pain into two general categories based on duration: Acute and Chronic.
Acute pain is generally short in duration and associated with minor injuries or stresses. You might experience acute back pain after participating in a sport, working around the house, gardening, taking a tumble or sleeping awkwardly. The pain is most commonly the result of straining muscles in the back, compressing a disc or inflammation of the nerves rooted to the spinal cord.
Back pain that persists for more than 3 months is considered Chronic. It often gets progressively worse and the cause can be difficult to diagnose. Acute back pain that is left untreated may develop into Chronic pain. Chronic back pain is sometimes the result of degenerative diseases such as arthritis or osteoporosis, or scar tissues built up on the lumbar structure.
Diagnosing Back Pain
Your doctor will assess your medical and personal history to help find the source of your back pain. You may have a variety of tests prescribed including:
X-rays—these will target broken bones and injured vertebra and are usually performed at your doctor’s office.
Discography—combines a conventional x-ray with an injection of a special dye into a suspect disc in your spine. The resulting image will clearly show any injury or inflammation. A similar procedure called Myelogram diagnoses nerve compression caused by herniated discs by injecting the dye into the spinal canal.
Ultrasound—an ultrasound scan is a painless procedure wherein a conductive gel is placed on the area to be scanned and a sound wave device is passed over the area producing a visual image. Tears in the soft tissues of the back are diagnosed via ultrasound technology.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)—when bone degeneration, injury, disease or infection is suspected, MRI scanning equipment is used for diagnosis. An MRI can produce a 3-D picture of the area being scanned.
Back pain is generally treated without surgery. Rest, muscle-relaxants or painkillers, and gentle exercise can all help alleviate back pain. Further treatments such as acupuncture, chiropractic visits, physical therapy and traction may be necessary for non-responsive back pain. The resources listed below can help you learn more about back pain.