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What Are the Different Types of Back Pain and How Do You Treat Them?

What Are the Different Types of Back Pain and How Do You Treat Them?

Posted by Eileen Durfee on Apr 2nd 2021

Living with back pain can have a serious impact on your day-to-day life. You may not be able to engage in your usual activities, spending time with loved ones can become a challenge, and you may even struggle to keep up at work. This pain can become debilitating if not treated, keeping you in bed and isolated from the people you love.

Man Suffering From Back Pain

There are dozens of different things that can cause back pain, so how do you know your culprit? Read on to discover the different back pain types and what you need to do to treat each.

Basic Back Anatomy

Before we dive into all the different back pain types, let’s talk some about basic back anatomy. Your back is divided into four different sections: the cervical curve, the thoracic curve, the lumbar curve, and the sacral curve.

Your cervical curve runs from your skull base to the top of your shoulders, and your thoracic curve runs from your shoulders to roughly your mid-back. Your lumbar curve starts around the base of your ribs and continues to the top of your hips, and your sacral curve extends from your hips to the base of your spine.

At the center of your back is your spine, a series of stacked vertebrae that house your spinal cord. This is a thick bundle of nerves responsible for conveying commands from your brain to the rest of your body. In between each vertebra, you have disks, shock-absorbing structures that pad your spine and keep your vertebrae in line.

Muscle Strain

One of the most common sources of back pain is muscle strain. Most of us have experienced this after a really intense upper body workout or when we tried to pick up something too heavy. You can also get a muscle strain as a result of performing the same movement over and over again.

Muscle strain can happen at any point on your back, though it is most common on the thoracic and lumbar regions. You may also get a muscle strain in your cervical region after a car accident due to whiplash. In most cases, muscle strain will cause soreness and limited range of motion for a few days and then will go away on its own.

Ligament Strain

If you pick up something too heavy or repeat a motion too often, you could also strain the ligaments in your back. Ligaments are fibrous tissues that connect your bones. They help to hold your body together and keep you stable as your muscles move.

When you move suddenly, pick up something too heavy, or use the same ligaments in the same way over and over again, it can cause those ligaments to become strained. Whiplash causes strained ligaments as often as it does strained muscles, in fact. Like muscle strains, these injuries usually heal on their own in all but the most severe cases.

Nerve Pain

In some cases, your back pain may not be the result of an injury to a muscle or ligament but of stress on a nerve. This sort of pain is usually a shooting pain instead of the achy or spasming pain a muscle strain can cause. Most people experience nerve pain starting in their lumbar spine and shooting down to their legs.

Often, nerve pain results from a disk slipping out of place and putting pressure on your spinal nerves. One of the most common forms of nerve pain is sciatica, which causes pain in your low back and hips that radiate down the backs of the legs. You can also have nerve pain extending into your arms and hands, depending on where the nerve is pinched.

Fractures

Of course, it should come as no surprise that fractures can cause back pain, too. When you have a traumatic injury to your back, it’s possible to break one or more of your vertebrae. While these injuries can also cause nerve damage if they collide with your spinal cord, these fractures cause immediate and intense pain.

If you believe you may have broken one or more of your vertebrae, you need to seek medical attention immediately. These fractures can be very dangerous and can take a long time to heal. Your doctor may require that you wear a brace and reduce your activity while your body recovers.

Osteoporotic Pain

Although traumatic bone fractures will cause immediate, intense back pain, you may also have a deeper, subtler sort of bone pain. While this can be the result of a few different conditions, the most common culprit is osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is most common in older adults and impacts more women than men.

Woman Suffering From Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes the bones to begin losing density and become more porous over time. As the bones weaken, patients may develop stress fractures, or small breaks in the bone resulting from long-term strain rather than an immediate trauma. There is currently no cure for osteoporosis, though you can take some preventative measures to avoid it.

Arthritic Pain

Another common culprit of chronic back pain is osteoarthritis, also known simply as arthritis. This condition also impacts mostly older adults, and there is currently no cure for it. Arthritis causes the same sort of dull ache that osteoporosis does, so if you start experiencing this sort of back pain, it’s important to make an appointment with your doctor.

Arthritis causes the cartilage that pads your bones to break down and wear away over time. This leaves your vertebrae or other joints scraping together, which can become painful and limit your range of motion. Over time, it can cause some complications, including depression and insomnia.

Bone Spurs

One of the common complications of osteoarthritis is the development of bone spurs. As the name suggests, bone spurs are protrusions that begin to grow along the edges of your bones. As the cartilage protecting your vertebrae breaks down, your body may attempt to repair the damage by creating these bone growths.

Although bone spurs may not cause you any problems at first, over time, they can start to pinch your spinal cord. This can cause you to lose strength in your limbs as the nerves, which send signals to your arms and legs, get compressed. You may also experience numbness or tingling in these limbs as those nerve signals get cut off.

Bulging Disks

As we age, the disks that help to pad our vertebrae can show wear and tear. These disks may begin to become dehydrated, and the cartilage they’re made of can become stiff. This causes them to start to bulge, expanding outward as it becomes compressed.

These bulging disks can start to put pressure on your spinal nerves, causing numbness, tingling, and pain. You may notice that this pain is worse during a sudden movement, such as sneezing or coughing. Your doctor may be able to prescribe you anti-inflammatory medications or give you a steroid shot, or they may recommend you go on bed rest to allow your disk to heal.

Ruptured Disks

If a bulging disc is left untreated for too long, it may eventually rupture. A ruptured disk, also known as a herniated disk, occurs when the bulging disk cracks through one of your vertebrae. A portion of that rubbery disk can start to protrude out of this crack, causing the typical nerve pain, numbness, and tingling.

If you catch a ruptured disk soon enough, your doctor may be able to treat it with anti-inflammatory medications or steroid injections. They may also recommend you go to physical therapy to minimize your pain from a herniated disk. In some cases, your doctor may have to perform surgery to remove the protruding portion of the disk and get you back to a pain-free life.

Risk Factors for Back Pain

There are several factors that may put you at higher risk of back pain, depending on what sort you have. As you may have noticed, one of the biggest risk factors is age. As we get older, our bodies start to show some of the wear and tear they’ve undergone, and certain parts of our backs may begin to break down.

Woman Dealing With Poor Posture

People who carry some extra weight can also be at higher risk of developing back pain since there’s more strain on their spines. People who practice poor posture may place more strain on their backs and be at greater risk. And you won’t be surprised to learn that people who have had back injuries in the past will be at a greater risk of developing other complications later down the road.

Learn More About Different Types of Back Pain

Back pain can be severe to the point of being debilitating, and there are a variety of things that can cause it. From nerve pain to fractures to osteoporosis, the different types of back pain will impact your life in different ways. And the treatment methods your doctor may prescribe will vary based both on what sort of back pain you have and how severe it is.

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