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

Shore up your core

Your core muscles, which are those in your torso and pelvis, help you maintain your balance, and allow you to bend, twist and reach. Strengthening them is essential, especially after age 30 when you may start to lose muscle mass. The average 50-year-old who hasn’t done strength-building exercises may have already lost as much as 10% of her muscle mass. More »

Sciatica

Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. It is the longest nerve in the body. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bony enlargement due to arthritis or a displaced (herniated) disk in the lower spine. Sciatica causes pain that begins in the lower back and spreads through the buttock, leg, calf and, occasionally, the foot. The pain generally will feel dull, aching or burning. Sometimes, it starts gradually, worsens during the night, and is aggravated by motion. Sciatica also can cause tingling, numbness or muscle weakness in the affected leg. (Locked) More »

Don’t take back pain sitting down

Pain when sitting can be caused by a number of common problems, including problems with the discs that cushion the vertebrae in the back. Lying down can help the pain temporarily, but the goal should be to get up and move as soon as possible. People should see a doctor if your pain is extremely severe, if it comes back after getting better, or if it occurred after an injury. (Locked) More »

Back X-Rays (Spine X-Rays)

Doctors have used x-rays for over a century to see inside the body in order to diagnose a variety of problems, including cancer, fractures, and pneumonia. During this test, you usually stand in front of a photographic plate while a machine sends x-rays, a type of radiation, through your body. Originally, a photograph of internal structures was produced on film; nowadays, the image created by the x-rays goes directly into a computer. Dense structures, such as bone, appear white on the x-ray films because they absorb many of the x-ray beams and block them from reaching the plate. Hollow body parts, such as lungs, appear dark because x-rays pass through them. Doctors use back x-rays to examine the vertebrae in the spine for fractures, arthritis, or spine deformities such as scoliosis, as well as for signs of infection or cancer. X-rays can be taken separately for the three areas of the spine: the cervical spine (neck), thoracic spine (middle back), and lumbar spine (lower back). Occasionally, doctors x-ray the pelvis to help diagnose the cause of back pain. You have to remove all clothing, undergarments, and jewelry from your upper body. You may be asked to wear a hospital gown. (Locked) More »

Myelography (Myelogram)

A myelogram is an x-ray test in which dye is injected directly into your spinal canal to help show places where the vertebrae in your back may be pinching the spinal cord. It is sometimes used to help diagnose back or leg pain problems, especially if surgery is being planned. Tell your doctor ahead of time if you have ever had an allergic reaction to lidocaine or the numbing medicine used at the dentist's office, or to x-ray dyes. You should also tell your doctor if you might be pregnant, since x-rays can harm the developing baby. Patients usually wear a hospital gown. Typically, you lie on your side with your knees curled up against your chest. In some cases, the doctor asks you to sit on the bed or a table instead, leaning forward against some pillows. (Locked) More »

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

 You might be considering surgery or other intervention to treat your back pain. But less may actually be more for this common problem, and in many instances the best medicine is good old-fashioned movement and exercise. Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health. It's also a little strange as far as ailments go. When you twist your ankle, you generally have pain that slowly goes away as the injury heals. Not so with back pain. Relief doesn't seem to be linked to healing because the pain is usually unrelated to an injury. In fact, back pain often diminishes over time, even when there is an underlying problem like a herniated disc or arthritis, says Dr. James Rainville, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Harvard Medical School. 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 »