back pain vertebral xray

Common Red Flags of a Serious Back Injury

What are the Different Types of Back Pain? 

Back pain is a frequent problem for many adults, and their experiences differ from person to person, categorized based on a few characteristics. The first characteristic is based on three separate segments of the vertebra: the cervical spine or upper back, the thoracic spine or mid back, and the lumbar spine, also known as the lower back. Next, pain symptoms are often placed on a sliding scale from mild to severe based on experience. Finally, pain is categorized as either acute or chronic. Acute pain could be caused by a hard fall or some other kind of traumatic back injury. Some examples of injuries that could cause acute back pain include sprains and strains, herniated discs, or pinched nerves. Chronic pain is long-term pain that occurs over months or even years and either has no apparent cause or caused by an injury that has since healed. Chronic pain is often non-specific, meaning medical professionals will not trace it back to one root cause and frequently indicative of poor posture, heavy lifting, or nerve damage. 

What Causes Back Pain? 

The back is a highly complex structure of muscles and bones, supported primarily by the spinal column- a curved stack of small bones called vertebrae that protects the spinal cord. The vertebrae make up the largest bundle of nerves in our body and directly connects the nervous system and the brain, making it rather difficult to imagine the complexity of determining one exact root cause when back pain arises. However complex it is there are still several causes of back pain that we can single out as more common than others. The most common acute back injury is muscle strain, which can range from mild to severe and happen during a bump or a spill, or from heavy lifting or overuse. Others include sprain, fractures, and herniated discs. Chronic back pain is most often a symptom of inflammation, which is the body's reparative response to things like arthritis, overload, and even stress. In some patients, conditions like osteoporosis or fibromyalgia can also cause back pain. 

Common Signs of Serious Back Injury 

Serious back injuries can come in various forms, classified by their similarities. Pain is described in many ways, and if it's severe it usually means serious injury or health risk. 

Along with severe pain, several sensations usually accompany serious back injury, including but not limited to: sharp pain indicating muscle damage, radiating pain indicating nerve damage; sudden weakness in the legs, incontinence, or the inability to control bladder or bowel functions, and lastly, numbness or tingling in the legs or groin. 

Treating Back Pain

Treatment for back pain can be vastly different based on the root cause and severity of the pain/injury. Some acute injuries require extensive treatment for a full recovery and often involve physical therapy, surgery, and weeks or months of rest. Others require a bit of ice and a couple of days off. Chronic back pain can sometimes be treated by making several lifestyle changes such as diet, exercise, and meditation. Obesity is one of the biggest causes of arthritis as it puts excessive strain on the structural segments of the body like the spine and can lead to back pain. Weight loss can be somewhat of a miracle cure for those experiencing back pain due to obesity. Exercise, meditation, stretching, and yoga can not only loosen muscles in the back by relieving tension and related pain symptoms, but also allow us to de-stress and improve our posture – addressing a few of the primary causes of chronic pain all at once. However, chronic pain can also be a symptom of existing medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis. These diseases cannot be cured and may require prescription medication, invasive surgeries, and long-term treatment plans.  

If you're unsure what course of treatment your pain level warrants try these basic at-home practices. If your pain doesn't improve, seek out the help of a medical professional. 

When Should I See My Doctor?

It can be difficult to determine whether your back pain or injury requires a visit to your healthcare provider. When making this important decision it is imperative that you keep a few things in mind. First, if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms aforementioned for common signs of serious back injury, seek immediate help. Secondly, if the pain from an acute injury or symptoms get worse, such as warmth, discoloration, or a fever develops, it's a good idea to reach out to a medical professional. Finally, if you're unsure whether you need to see a doctor, it's best to consult with one online or over the phone if possible and discuss your symptoms to see if you may require further medical attention.




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