“Oh, my aching back!” It’s not only a common expression but - indication of just how frequently Americans suffer from lower back pain. Nearly everyone at some point has back pain that interferes with work, routine daily activities, or recreation.
Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain, the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States — only headache is more common.
Second only to colds and flu, lower back pain is the most common reason Americans see their doctors. The good newsis that lower back pain usually goes away after a few days with treatment.
“The prevalence of low back pain increases with age, is indication that degenerative conditions of the spine are a significant cause says Dr. _Stephen Neece, a Board Certified Neurological Surgeon at Centennial Medical Center and head of Centennial’s spine program. “Everyone develops degenerative changes in their back to some degree as they age, yet not everyone experiences pain. Genetic, environmental, and work factors probably play a role.”
Five vertebrae (cylindrical shaped bones) make up the lower back, known as the lumbar region. Dr. Neece explains that because this area of the back supports the weight of the upper body, it is where you are most likely to feel pain. The most common causes are lifting and yard work.
You may be at higher risk if you:
• Are over age 30
• Have an inactive lifestyle
• Are overweight, especially around the waist
• Have poor posture
“To relieve lower back pain at home, you need several days of rest,” says Dr. Neece. “But it’s important to avoid spending too much time resting before seeking medical evaluation, as other complications can develop. Taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Motrin or Aleve) may help.”
If you also have leg pain that doesn’t go away in a day or two, call your doctor. Your doctor will examine you to check for signs of nerve problems and also poor blood circulation. The physical exam may not show anything, except for pain during motion, and other diagnostic tests may be needed.
Dr. Neece stresses that you should call your doctor immediately if:
• Pain goes down your leg or buttocks
• Your leg or foot is numb
• You have fever
• You lose control of your bowels or bladder
• Your pain was caused by an injury
• The pain is very bad
If you experience these symptoms, your doctor will examine you and may order diagnostic tests. He or she may check for signs of a ruptured disk in your back, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), hernia, cancer, kidney stone, or other serious problems. Tests might include X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the lower spine.
Depending upon what your doctor finds, you may be referred for physical therapy. Non-surgical treatments, in addition to rest and anti-inflammatory drugs, include stronger medications for short periods, back braces, heat or cold, massage, traction, acupuncture, injections, and physical therapy.
Surgery may be indicated if non-surgical treatments are unsuccessful. This might be only a microscopic discetomy or sometimes a spinal fusion during which bone grafting and metal screws join more vertebras.
“When you experience your next episode of back pain, remember the odds are very much in your favor, that you are going to get over it quickly and your health care professional is available to help you get through it,” says Dr. Neece.
For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of lower back pain, visit Dr. Neece’s Web site at drneece.com.