Most adults experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. Though back pain, also known as lumbago, is very common, many people receive inadequate relief due to uncoordinated treatment from a variety of healthcare providers.

Seton Healthcare Family connects those suffering from upper or lower back pain to teams of specialists for better spine treatments. These specialists include surgeons, non-surgical physicians, chiropractors and physical therapists. Being informed about the basics of back pain can help you receive the most advanced and least invasive spine treatment available.

Wellness & Prevention

Back pain is a very common occurrence for men and women of all ages. Upper or lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. However, despite its frequency, back pain can often be avoided altogether by taking care of your spine health.

Many types of lower and upper back pain come from poor physical condition or improper body mechanics when moving or lifting objects. Most of the ways to prevent back pain are centered on improving your physical fitness:

  • Get regular exercise and build muscle strength
  • Maintain a healthy weight to prevent back strain
  • Keep good posture while sitting or standing
  • Ensure good form when lifting heavy objects
  • Avoid heavy lifting and physical strain as much as possible

Diagnosis

Lumbago can include any discomfort in your back muscles, nerves or bones. Doctors use a variety of tests to determine what type of back pain you have:

  • Physical tests, including examination of your nerve function and range of motion
  • Chemical tests of your blood and urine
  • X-rays to examine the structure of your bones and health of your tissue
  • Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be done to confirm your symptoms and locate the cause of the pain

Test results can help decide what the best course of treatment is.

Treatments

Lower and upper back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their doctor. It is estimated that nearly eight out of 10 people will experience back pain or related symptoms related in their life. Because of this, the treatments for people suffering from upper or lower back pain include a wide range of therapies. As back pain can be caused by a variety of concerns, your doctor will first need to find the exact cause and location of the pain to decide which option will work best for you.

Typical back pain treatments include:

  • Oral medications to relieve pain
  • Spinal injections of steroids, often in combination with a physical therapy program
  • Physical therapy and muscle-strengthening exercises
  • Chiropractic care, while controversial, may provide symptom relief for some people
  • Spinal cord stimulators (for chronic pain)
  • Acupuncture, or insertion of small needles to release chemicals and provide pain relief

Back Surgery

While back surgery is a possible treatment option for symptom relief, doctors usually reserve it until all other treatments have failed. Back surgery is considered a last resort due to the risks that come with surgery, and because surgery won’t always improve symptoms for everyone.

The pros of back surgery can include less back pain, which in turn reduces the need for pain medication. People can enjoy better physical fitness and return to work more quickly.

The cons can include surgical complications, nerve damage or disc herniation.

Doctors often have trouble predicting who will see pain relief from back surgery and who won’t. Your doctor can help you decide whether back surgery may be a good treatment option for your symptoms.

The different types of back surgery can include:

  • Disc Replacements: Implanting artificial disks in place of damaged ones.
  • Discectomy: Removing a spinal disc that is out of alignment, which causes it to press on the nerves.
  • Interlaminar Implant: insertion of a U-shaped device between two bones in the back, helping to maintain enough space in between.
  • Laminectomy or Foraminotamy: These procedures remove parts of the bone or bone ligaments to lessen pressure on the spinal nerves.
  • Microdiscectomy: A discectomy performed with the help of a special microscope.
  • Spinal Fusion: Connecting spinal bones together to limit movement and nerve stretching.
  • Vertebroplasty or Kyphoplasty: Minimally invasive surgeries performed to treat compression fractures of the vertebrae.

Aftercare

Your post-treatment care will likely depend on how severe your symptoms were and how extensive your therapy was. Mild treatments such as back massage should not require additional care. However, mild treatments may need to be scheduled regularly for the best outcome.

More intensive therapies will require you to rest after your procedure. You will usually need somebody to drive you home after nerve or spinal stimulation. Back surgery will require bedrest with a course of pain-relieving medications taken after.

Regardless of which treatment you receive, you’ll need to be careful with back-related activities in the future. Heavy lifting or strenuous activity can make symptoms worse, even with treatment. Lower or upper back pain is a very common and treatable problem, but care must be taken to ensure you receive the best possible outcome.