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Back Pain Information

Approximately half a billion people are afflicted with back pain in the United States. The causes of back pain are many and thus they can be difficult to diagnose. The most common causes of back pain are muscle spasms caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Although most back pain can be managed with non-surgical treatment, there are more than 1 million spinal surgeries performed for the treatment of degenerative spinal disorders.

The backbone is made up of small bones called vertebrae. A spinal segment is composed of two vertebrae, the intervertebral disk between the two vertebra, the two nerve roots that leave the spinal cord, one from each side. Damage or degeneration in any of these complex areas can put pressure on nerve roots that results in pain.

Many people may not need to see a health care provider right away. Often, within a few days, the symptoms go away without any treatment. A visit to your health care provider is a good idea if symptoms are severe, the pain is keeping you from doing things that you do every day, the problem does not go away within a few days.

If any of the additional symptoms listed below are present, the problem is more serious and a health care professional should be consulted.

  • Leg or Foot Pain
  • Leg or Foot Numbness
  • Leg or Foot Weakness

CONDITIONS RESULTING IN BACK PAIN

Common causes of back pain are: trauma, such as from a fall; illness, such as an infection; degenerative or "wear and tear changes" of the discs or joints; or spinal deformity, such as scoliosis. We will focus on some of the more common causes below.

Herniated Disc

A herniated disc occurs when a fragment of the inner gel-like substance called the nucleus is pushed out of the outer disc margin, into the spinal canal through a tear or rupture. In the herniated disc's new position, it presses on spinal nerves, producing pain down the accompanying leg. The spinal canal has limited space which is inadequate for the spinal nerve and the displaced herniated disc fragment. Disc herniations are a common cause of low back pain and leg pain (sciatica). Symptoms may include dull or sharp pain, muscle spasm or cramping, sciatica, and leg weakness or loss of leg function. Sneezing, coughing, or bending usually intensifies the pain. A herniation may develop suddenly or gradually over weeks or months and may not cause any pain at all.

Many factors increase the risk for disc herniation: Lifestyle choices such as tobacco use, lack of regular exercise, and inadequate nutrition substantially contribute to poor disc health; natural biochemical changes with age cause discs to gradually dry out affecting disc structure and function (degenerative disc disease); Poor posture combined with the habitual use of incorrect body mechanics stresses the lumbar spine and affects its normal ability to carry the bulk of the body's weight.

Degenerative Disc VS. Herniated Disc

Degenerative disc disease is a common cause of low back pain.  Another common condition affecting the disc is disc herniation.  A disc herniation in the low back can press on the nerves that supply the leg, causing pain, numbness or even weakness in the leg.  Herniated disc usually cause more leg pain than back pain, whereas degenerative discs usually cause more back pain than leg pain.

Many herniated discs heal without surgery, but if surgery is needed, it generally entails removing the part of the disc that is pressing on the nerve (Microscopic Discectomy).  This procedure can be performed through a small incision with the use of the operating microscope.

On the other hand, discectomy surgery is generally not effective for degenerative disc disease.  Fusion of the degenerative disc is usually more effective in resolving the pain of degenerative disc disease, in those patients who don’t get better with non-surgical care.

Treatment Options
There are a variety of treatments that should first be explored when trying to treat this pain, the final of which is herniated disc surgery. Go to Treatment Options

 


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