About The Author
Carley Sauter, MD
Board Certified, Physiatrist
Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin
Back pain is one of the most common causes of missed work and disability. In fact, the majority of men and women experience back pain at some point during their lifetime. What’s more, while the reasons vary due to age, back pain affects people young and old.
Strains are one of the most common causes of back pain, but there are several other conditions that can also sideline you from your daily activities:
- Back Strain – This type of injury often occurs when lifting something or while bending or twisting. Usually people fully recover within a few weeks with conservative treatments: over-the-counter medications, icing, and sometimes physical therapy and chiropractic care. If symptoms stick around, prescription medications or a spinal injection may be recommended.
- Bulging or Herniated Disc – These changes are typically caused by wear and tear due to aging but can also occur due to heavy lifting or an injury. Conservative measures are usually successful in treating the condition – like a back strain, treatment may include over the counter medications, icing, physical therapy, chiropractic care and steroid injections.
- Degenerative Disc Disease – Disc degeneration is a natural part of aging. Often the condition does not require treatment, but sometimes symptoms are present, that may include back pain with sitting and bending. Over-the-counter medications, stretching exercises and physical therapy are common ways of managing and alleviating pain.
- Sciatica or Pinched Nerve – This condition is often caused by a bulging or ruptured disc in the spine that presses against the nerve roots. You may feel pain, numbness and tingling that begins in your back or buttock and moves down your leg and potentially into your foot. This type of pain frequently improves or goes away on its own, however medications, physical therapy and sometimes steroid injections can help relieve symptoms as well.
Although most cases of back pain are not serious, there are certain situations when you need to seek immediate medical attention. If you have any of the following symptoms you should contact your primary care doctor or urgent care: pain and weakness spreading into your legs, severe pain that doesn’t improve with rest, pain after an injury or fall, pain associated with illness or fever, or having your bowel or bladder habits affected.
A good rule of thumb with most back injuries is to stay up and active with your daily activities around the house and short walks. Movement can help you feel better faster, and staying in bed with a back injury may actually make the symptoms last longer. To help prevent back pain, educate yourself on proper bending and lifting techniques. It’s also a good idea to check your workspace and make sure it is set up with correct chair height and proper equipment spacing and that it allows good desk posture. Also, make time to exercise regularly. Low-impact activities, such as walking, biking, and doing core exercises can help keep your back strong so you can avoid injury.
To find a primary care physician who can refer you to a spine specialist, reach out to your health insurance provider.