There are three sections of the back: the neck (cervix), the midsection of the back (thorax) and the lower back (lumbar). Back pain is defined based on the region of the back affected: cervical, thoracic and lumbar. A fourth area of pain is defined as tailbone or sacral pain (coccydynia). In my clinic, patients present with one or multiple regions of their back affected by pain. There are many causes of back pain and include conditions of the spine (the ‘soup bones’), the discs between the vertebrae, nerve impingement, peripheral ligaments of the spine and discs, the spinal cord, paraspinal muscles and muscles of the posterior, organs of all three major regions, and the pelvic floor. Other causes of back pain can be pregnancy, stress, tumors, inflammation, conditions of the skin and lifestyle. Back pain that comes on suddenly and lasts no more than six weeks (acute) can be caused by a fall or heavy lifting. Back pain that lasts more than three months (chronic) is less common than acute pain. Back pain often develops without a cause that your doctor can identify with a test or an imaging study. A red flag and cause to seek immediate medical attention is when your back pain is alleviated by lying down (this could be a tumor).
Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
Muscle or ligament strain: Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you’re in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back can cause painful muscle spasms.
Bulging or ruptured discs: Discs act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) of your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve. Nerve impingement can lead to numbness and tingling of an extremity or lack of motility of a muscle group. It is important to note that you can have a bulging or ruptured disk without experiencing back pain. An x-ray and MRI can determine if a disc is bulged or ruptured. In certain cases, the combined therapies of acupuncture and corrective postural exercises can help minimize or eliminate disc pain.
Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can affect the any region of the back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis. Regular acupuncture treatments, photobiomodulation therapy, proper diet and healthy lifestyle can help minimize the symptoms of spinal stenosis.
Skeletal irregularities: Scoliosis is when the spine curves to one side or another. This can lead to back pain as muscles of one side can be in a state of constant spasm, concurrently, the muscles on the opposite side of the back are in a constant state of flaccidity.
Osteoporosis: Your spine’s vertebrae can develop compression fractures if your bones become porous and brittle. It is important that as we age, we perform exercises and engage in activities that will help strengthen our muscles and bones. Proper nutrition and lifestyle habits should be practiced.
Overuse Injuries: Overuse injuries are very common and typical occur when we push our bodies past their levels of training or physical abilities. However poor form and improper training techniques (e.g.: running 22 miles to train for a half marathon, not enough time for warming-up or cooling-down) are more often the culprits causing injury.