Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common painful and non-life-threatening conditions. It affects four in five Americans at some point in their lives. The good news is that back pain need not govern how you live your life.

If you have back pain, medication, exercise, and changes in your lifestyle are likely to offer the most relief. Surgery is useful in a minority of people

Most back pain isn't dangerous, but it's important to learn the "red flag" situations that require immediate medical attention. These include:

  • back pain that occurs at the same time as a fever
  • leg weakness that comes on abruptly or gets progressively worse
  • numbness in the groin
  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • pain that worsens instead of getting better
  • inability to find a comfortable position for sitting or sleeping during times when you feel back pain

Other self-care steps you can take to mend your back include different types of exercise and complementary therapies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage, as well as choosing the right mattress.

Back Pain Articles

When do I need an imaging test for my back pain?

Unless people have other symptoms in addition to low back pain, like a fever or leg weakness, an immediate x-ray, CT scan, or MRI rarely improves the outcome. A commonsense approach often works best, such as rest, hot and cold compresses, and over-the-counter pain relivers. (Locked) More »

A broken back without the fall

Compression fractures of the spine might not have symptoms. However, they could signal trouble on the way. When one vertebra fractures, there’s a high risk that another will. Each fracture brings a slight loss of height and a reduced ability to bend. A number of fractures contribute to a rounding of the back known as dowager’s hump (dorsal kyphosis). The condition significantly increases the risk for disability, as well as difficulty digesting food or breathing. When a compression fracture is discovered, doctors recommend starting treatment for osteoporosis. (Locked) More »

Babying your back may delay healing

Back pain often comes on without warning and will usually get better on its own, even when imaging shows changes such as arthritis and disc degeneration. The best way to treat back pain is to avoid prolonged rest and stay active instead. Aggressive interventions may actually make the condition worse. More »

The safe way to do yoga for back pain

The mind-body practice of yoga can be a great therapeutic activity to help strengthen back muscles and alleviate low back pain. However, older adults can encounter injuries from yoga, including to their backs, by doing the poses incorrectly. By taking preventive measures, relying on yoga instructors for guidance, and using support tools, people can safely practice yoga as a way to treat and manage back pain. More »

The surprising side effects from using technology

Using electronic devices, such as smartphones and computers, can lead to joint pain. Frequent texting can cause strain or overuse injuries of the tendons that run from the wrist to the thumb (a condition called De Quervain’s tenosynovitis). Pushing buttons too hard can lead to inflammation around the tendons and pulleys that bend the fingers, increasing the risk for trigger finger (stenosing tenosynovitis). Typing can worsen carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms. Looking down at devices for long periods can lead to neck pain. Pain relief may come with rest and changing the way one uses electronic devices. More »

The best meds for back pain

An estimated 80% of people will seek medical attention for back pain at some point in their lives. Most of the time over-the-counter pain relievers does the trick. But they may not be effective enough. Some people require stronger prescription drugs while they seek treatments to address the source of their back pain. (Locked) More »

Ask Dr. Rob about piriformis syndrome

Piriformis syndrome is a painful condition that develops due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve near the piriformis muscle. The piriformis muscle connects the lowermost vertebrae with the upper part of the leg after traveling the "sciatic notch," the opening in the pelvic bone that allows the sciatic nerve to travel into the leg. Here, the muscle and nerve are adjacent and this proximity is why trouble can develop. The condition is relatively common. Estimates suggest that about 5% of cases of sciatica (irritation of the sciatic nerve causing radiating pain from the back or buttock into the leg, calf and foot) are due to piriformis syndrome. It seems to be more common among women though the reason for this is not known. The typical patient with piriformis syndrome complains of "sciatica" — that is, sharp, severe, radiating pain from the lower back or buttock down the back of the leg and into the thigh, calf, and foot. Symptoms may seem to be due to hip bursitis or disc herniation ("slipped disc") but the doctor's examination helps sort out the true cause because with piriformis syndrome the person also has: More »

Yoga can help with low back pain relief

A 12-week yoga program that focused on strengthening the core and improving mobility helped reduce pain and improve quality of life among people who suffered from chronic low back pain. More »