Click on the questions below for general back and spine care FAQs.
There are 5 primary goals in treating back pain:
1. Restore mobility and activity
2. Decrease pain through any of the following:
Restoring mobility and activity, muscle relaxers, ice and/or heat, pain medications (used in cases of severe pain; use should be limited), medications, anti-inflammatory medication
3. Prevention of further injury through education
4. Education about concerning symptoms and when to seek additional care.
5. Lifestyle changes, education and guidance on exercise, smoking cessation, obesity, dietary recommendations, etc.
Acute pain starts quickly and lasts less than six weeks. It is the most common type of back pain. Acute pain may be caused by falling, being tackled in football or lifting something heavy. Chronic pain lasts for more than three months and is much less common than acute pain.
Many individuals feel like a brace or corset would help their back pain. While this can feel good in the short term and is sometimes useful in getting someone over an acute episode of back pain, we do not generally recommend a brace. With use of the brace, the muscles get lazy and do not work as hard. In time, they become de-conditioned, or weak, and do not provide as much support for the spine, which sometimes causes increased pain.
A pinched nerve means that the nerve is being pushed upon or compressed. Pinched nerves can be caused by any number of things. This includes bone spurs, disc herniation, enlarged or thickened ligaments in and around the spinal canal. The pinched nerve can also be caused by other causes farther away from the spine such as a cervical rib, a ligament or muscle in the shoulder, elbow, or wrist.
Scoliosis is a lateral (toward the side) curvature in the normally straight vertical line of the spine. When viewed from the side, the spine should show a mild roundness in the upper back and shows a degree of swayback (inward curvature) in the lower back. When a person with a normal spine is viewed from the front or back, the spine appears to be straight. When a person with scoliosis is viewed from the front or back, the spine appears to be curved.
Spinal stenosis means there is less room for the spinal cord and exiting nerve roots, typically resulting in radiating leg pain. The two major causes of radiating leg pain would be either a herniated disc or lumbar stenosis.
A disc begins to bulge when the center of the disc pushes out against the ligament that surrounds it, much like air being blown into a balloon. Bulging discs are common, and can be seen on MRI even in people who do not have pain. A bulging disc will cause problems when it balloons into the space in the spinal canal. In comparison, a herniated disc is like a balloon that has popped. The disc herniates when the soft, inner material squeezes its way through the ligament and ruptures — like a popped balloon. Pain occurs because of the tear in the ligament, the pressure of the disc material against your nerves, and from the inflammation caused when the inner material is squeezed out of the disc. If there is pressure on a nerve, symptoms of numbness and weakness may also be noticed in the areas supplied by the nerve.