If you or a loved one is suffering from back pain, you are not alone. Approximately 80 percent of American adults will experience back pain at some point in their life. Next to headaches, back pain is the most common neurological condition and is the third most common reason for a doctor’s visit.
“Almost everyone experiences back pain at some point,” said Dr. John Collis, neurosurgeon and co-medical director of St. Vincent Charity Medical Center’s Spine and Orthopedic Institute. “The good news is, however, that for the vast majority of people, the back pain will resolve itself with time and home treatment.”
Symptoms of back pain include:
- A dull or aching sensation in the lower back.
- Stabbing or shooting pain that can radiate down the leg to the foot.
- An inability to stand up straight without pain.
- Decreased range of motion and diminished ability to flex the back.
The vast majority of the 400,000 patients that Dr. Collis has treated experience acute, or short-term, pain that persists for no longer than six weeks. Acute low back pain, often the result of a sudden injury, may be caused by muscle spasms or a strain to the muscles and ligaments supporting the back.
Dr. Collis advises that the vast majority of these cases can be resolved with safe medications, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, stretching exercises and backing off strenuous exercise, such as running. In fact, studies show that up to 90 percent of patients with an acute episode of low back pain will feel better within 4-12 weeks.
A much smaller percentage of patients experience chronic back pain, which develops over a longer period of time, lasts longer than three months and causes ongoing problems, such as interference with work time and leisure activities. Chronic back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and the leading cause of missed work days.
Chronic back pain is a more complex condition, often involving multiple contributing factors, such as arthritis, nerve damage or stenosis (narrowing) of the spine. Due to the complexities of the spine, Dr. Collis stresses the importance for patients wanting relief from chronic back pain to seek the advice of a specialist who can provide an accurate diagnosis and identify the true source of the pain.