A Simple Backache—or Something More Serious?

It might strike when you pick up your child, reach to pull a weed or get up from your office chair. If you’re like most Americans, you’ve had at least one episode of back pain.

The best treatment is usually simple but not easy: time. “When you’re incapacitated by back pain, you feel like it’s going to last forever,” says William Earman, D.O., a board certified orthopedic surgeon with Little Company of Mary. “But the good news is, it’s not. The body heals itself.”

Pain located centrally in the lower back should resolve gradually after a few days of rest. Applying cold compresses and heat or taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help. More good news: Only about one in 25 patients who visits Dr. Earman for back pain ends up requiring surgery, he says.

Back Pain Through the Years
Contrary to popular belief, back pain is often most severe among middle-aged adults. “During these years, back pain affects your ability to work, play, exercise and raise a family,” Dr. Earman says.

Low back pain often begins in the disks that separate and cushion the spinal column’s 24 vertebrae. An accident, or pressure over time, can weaken the harder covering of the disks. The soft, jellylike material inside then begins to bulge out like an overinflated tire. If the covering cracks or breaks, the inner fluid can leak out. This is known as a ruptured or herniated disk. All of these conditions can press on surrounding nerves or the spinal cord, causing back pain.

Also, as you age, the disks begin to degenerate. The fluid-filled insides dry out, reducing their ability to absorb shock. Older adults with degenerative disks may feel neck or back pain, or no pain at all.

Most symptoms caused by bulging, herniated or degenerative disks resolve in four weeks with conservative treatment, such as prescription pain relievers or physical therapy to stretch and strengthen muscles supporting the spine.

When to Seek Treatment
Sometimes, back pain is a symptom of a more serious problem. It could signal kidney stones or a fracture or swelling in the aorta, the main blood vessel that leads from your heart to your organs.

“See a doctor if you experience a new, different pain that causes you to feel alarmed,” Dr. Earman advises. Also, make an appointment if you have:

  • Pain that doesn’t subside after four to five days
  • Pain after a fall or blow to the back
  • Numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation in the leg or foot
  • Pain radiating down the leg, a condition called sciatica

If you are looking for advice or help achieving your maximum wellness, call our Personal Health Coaches at 708.423-5774 to schedule your first visit, which is free.

Copyright ©. Little Company of Mary Hospital and Healthcare Centers