Back pain and discomfort can be one of the most frustrating experiences for anyone who enjoys the ability to stand up straight – which, I believe, is everyone! Our spine supports our skeletal structure and gives us the flexibility to move, bend, extend, reach, and even do that infamous Beyonce dance everyone loves: “Uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh, uh-oh!!"
There's no complaint I hear more as a Physical Therapist than, “My back hurts. What can I do to help it?” Back pain is the second most common cause of disability in adults and a very common reason people miss days from work. There are many causes of back pain, such as poor posture & body mechanics, car accident or trauma to your spine and back, repetitive bending activities, and degenerative conditions such as spinal stenosis and arthritis.
It’s important to first recognize and pinpoint a few things when referring and attempting to treat back pain:1. Presence or Absence of Radiculopathy
Radiculopathy is defined as pain that radiates from the spine and extends toward the outer limbs. It’s important to note if your back pain radiates down one or both of your legs, or if it's localized in one particular area. Radiculopathy can indicate irritation or compression of a nerve in your spine, and can be experienced through pain, numbness, tingling, and/or weakness in your lower extremities. It can also limit your ability to stand for greater periods of time in order to cook, clean, or stand to cheer for your favorite football team! Let’s go Redskins! With radiculopathy, it’s vital to follow up with your physician for further evaluation and treatment.2. Location and Type of Pain
Location, location, location! If no one’s ever told you before, it’s all about the location! Once you’ve gotten clear on the presence of the pain, pinpointing where the pain is generally coming from helps to diagnosis and treat.
Back pain can be very tricky to diagnose as various organs and inner medical conditions can also refer pain to the back. For example, my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March of 2015. For those who may not be familiar with this type of cancer, it’s an aggressive cancer of the pancreas that has a high mortality rate and is usually diagnosed very late in its stages.
By the grace of God, yes we thank God for his pain, my father began to experience excruciating pain in his lower back. He went to his primary doctor. They ran tests and my father was diagnosed early with Stage 1 pancreatic cancer. The tumor of the cancer was pushing against my father’s kidneys which caused pain in his lower to mid back. It was the only way we would have ever known he had cancer! So again, by the the grace of God, it was caught early and he was treated immediately. My father is now cancer free and back to riding his Harley Davidson!
Like my dad, most people who experience pain just want it to go away! They could care less how to describe it, it just hurts!
Everybody is familiar with pain, but there are numerous descriptors for pain that helps a clinician further attempt to specifically diagnosis the symptoms appropriately. Pain can be: dull, aching, sharp, tingling, radiating, pulsating, and burning, just to name a few. How would you describe your pain?3. Duration of the Symptoms
It’s important to monitor the time frame of your pain in order to distinguish one diagnosis or symptoms from another. Pain that lasts for a short period of time is considered acute pain. Normally, right after a trauma or any kind of damage to the spinal region. Pain lasting longer than 12 weeks is usually considered chronic pain, which can come from degenerative conditions and repetitive movements. Location is key, but timing is everything!4. Triggers and Relievers
How does your pain come about? What triggers it? What makes it feel better? When does it hurt the worst? When does it feel the best? Some people have more pain in the morning that eases as the day goes on, while others have pain that worsens throughout the day as a result of prolonged standing and walking. When treating back pain, it's important to know the positions, activities, and time frame that aggravates or relieves the pain in order to tailor a program that will help to meet the need of the specific area.
My mother recently had back surgery. Prior to her surgery, she could not stand for greater than two minutes because the pain would radiate down her leg in such an excruciating way. The only thing that relieved her pain was bending over. She was diagnosed with spinal stenosis. After numerous bouts of physical therapy and cortisone injections, her last result was surgery. She is now back to leading praise and worship at church and you can’t tell her to sit down! She’s got way too much to praise God for!
Pain of any kind is not pleasant and should be treated and diagnosed appropriately. Whatever pain you are experiencing now, begin to focus on these four areas and follow up with your doctor as needed. You have too much life to live and too many things to to let pain hold you back. Prevention is key, and wisdom is everything!