Backache is one of the most common reasons given for doctor’s visits. Although back pain can occur anywhere along the spine or muscles of the back, lower back pain is the most common complaint. Back pain is also one of the most common reasons for missed work, especially if the patient suffers from muscle “spasms” that limit mobility.

What Causes Back Pain?

There are multiple reasons why people develop back pain. Some of the most common causes are:

Injury or Overuse of Muscles

Those who engage in heavy lifting or strenuous exercise are most likely to have muscle injuries that lead to back pain. This type of pain is often of short duration unless the muscle is damage severely. A few day’s rest usually takes care of most muscle pain associated with exertion.

Pressure on the Nerve Roots of the Spinal Canal

This is the type of pain that immobilizes some patients and makes life truly miserable. This pain is different from that of an overworked muscle; it can be deep, excruciating and debilitating. There are several reasons for pressure on nerve roots, including:

  • A herniated disc which occurs when a sudden strain or repeated motion causes the spine’s discs to slip out of place
  • Osteoarthritis, a disease that affects the joints of the spine or hips
  • Spondylolisthesis, in which vertebrae slide over one another
  • Spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal
  • Fractures caused by trauma such as an auto accident
  • Spinal deformities, which may be congential as in scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, or acquired as in kyphosis, when the upper back “hunches” due to poor posture

– Compression fractures that occur after steroid use or with aging.

While it is possible to develop back pain from spinal tumors or infections, this is far less commonly seen than muscle or nerve damage.

What Is A “Slipped Disc?”

You may have heard people use the term “slipped disc” for a back problem. This occurs when the discs, narrow pockets filled with fluid that form a cushion for the spine, slip out of place, causing pressure and pain. In serious cases, the disc can actually rupture, leaking fluid and leading bone to grind on bone.

What Can I Do To Stop Back Pain?

People have hundreds of “home remedies” for back pain, but a doctor should always examine you if you have unexplained back pain or pain that begins suddenly with no apparent cause. Injuries that are obvious, such as back pain following exertion, may heal in a few days with no intervention. However, rest and heat compression on the affected area, along with over-the-counter pain medication, may help speed the process.

However, chronic back pain is not something you can treat at home. You will want to visit your doctor as soon as possible to begin treatment. Since most back pain treatment is a long-term prospect, the sooner you begin the sooner your back pain can be resolved.

According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor will likely choose one of the following tests, depending on your particular type of back pain and the suspected causes.

  • X-Ray – If you are suspected of having arthritis or a fracture, an x-ray may be ordered. This relatively low-cost test shows images of bones but cannot detect problems in the spinal cord, muscles or nerves
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI or CT scans – These tests are much more revealing than an x-ray and can show problems with both bones and muscles, as well as nerves and other tissues. An MRI or a CT scan can give your doctor a picture of what is causing your pain
  • Bone Scan - If your doctor suspects osteoporosis or a tumor, he or she may ordered a bone scan. This is a more invasive test and is usually reserved for cases where unusual causes of back pain are suspected
  • Electromyography or EMG - This test measures nerve impulses and the responses of the muscles surrounding them. If your doctor believes your back pain is due to nerve compression, or if your doctor feels you may have spinal stenosis, this test may provide illuminating results.

Your doctor may prescribe drugs, physical therapy, rest, or a combination of treatments. Back pain tends to come and go, so it is very important that you observe limitations on lifting heavy objects or performing strenuous activities even if you do not have back pain at the time.

It is possible to treat back pain successfully with your doctor’s help. Health insurance often pays all or part of the cost of this treatment, although many health insurance policies do not pay for alternative medical treatments such as chiropractic care.