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.
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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.
The spinal cord carries nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Trauma to the spinal cord can result from a number of injuries: about half occur after motor vehicle accidents; 25% after falls; 15% after a gunshot wound or other violence; and 10% after sports-related injuries. More than 80% of cases of spinal cord trauma occur in people between the ages of 15 and 35, and approximately 80% of those affected are male. Up to one-quarter of cases occur after significant alcohol ingestion. Pre-existing disease in the spine can make spinal cord trauma more likely. For example, complications of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis may lead to spinal cord damage.
Most spinal cord injuries occur in the area of the neck called the cervical region. Trauma can result from bruising to the spinal cord itself, loss of blood flow to the cord or cuts in the cord. Spinal cord injuries are serious and can cause diminished strength, coordination and sensation as well as other functions, such as bladder control.
Inside a joint, a tissue called cartilage cushions the joint and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage of a joint erodes (breaks down). Bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain and difficulty moving the joint. Osteoarthritis also can affect nearby bones, which can become enlarged in places. These enlargements are called bone spurs or osteophytes.
Although the term arthritis means joint inflammation, there is relatively little inflammation in the joints of most people with osteoarthritis. For this reason, and because this type of arthritis seems to be caused by age-related degeneration of the joints, many experts and health care professionals prefer to call it degenerative joint disease.
Osteoarthritis can range from mild to severe. The pain associated with osteoarthritis can be significant and it usually is made worse by movement. Osteoarthritis can be limited to one joint or start in one joint usually the knee, hip, hand, foot or spine or it can involve a number of joints. If the hand is affected, usually many joints of the fingers become arthritic.
Osteoarthritis probably does not have a single cause, and, for most people, no cause can be identified. Age is a leading risk factor, because osteoarthritis usually occurs as people get older. However, research suggests that joints do not always deteriorate as people age. Other factors seem to contribute to osteoarthritis. Sports-related injuries or repeated small injuries caused by repeated movements on the job may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Genetics also plays a role. Obesity seems to increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knees.
The disks in your spine, called intervertebral disks, are thin, oblong structures that serve as cushions between the bones of your back (vertebrae). Each disk is made of a soft gel core surrounded by a tough, fibrous outer shell. This structure allows the disk to be firm enough to maintain the space between the vertebrae, but soft enough to compress when the spine flexes during bending, leaning and turning sideways.