Back pain is one of those unfortunate conditions of modern life.

Whether the pain comes from a long-ago injury, hours spent sitting hunched over a desk, or just the natural aging process, chronic back pain can be debilitating. Roughly 80 percent of adults experience back pain at some time in their adult lives, and back pain is the leading cause of job-related disability.

Rather than taking medications daily or exploring back surgery, you can see relief from your back pain with chiropractic care.

DISCLAIMER: This post has been created for informational purposes only. This is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your chiropractor or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on our website. We cannot and do not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on this website. If you think you may have a medical emergency call your doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911 immediately.  Reliance solely on any information provided by EugeneFamilyChiropractic.com is solely at your own risk.

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What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain can have many causes, with many of the issues stemming from some kind of injury or degenerative condition of the spine.

Some common causes of back pain include:

Sprains & Strains

Many people who experience acute back pain, meaning back pain that comes on suddenly and lasts a few days to a few weeks, have injured their backs by doing something to cause a sprain or strain.

A sprain is caused by tearing or overstretching a ligament, while a strain is a tear to a tendon or muscle.

Strains and sprains can be caused by improperly twisting or lifting something, lifting a too-heavy object, or overstretching.

Disc Degeneration

Normally healthy discs are rubbery and provide height and allow bending, flexion, and torsion of the back.

As you age, the discs deteriorate and lose their ability to cushion your back, which can lead to pain.

Herniated or Ruptured Discs

Sometimes, a traumatic injury or degenerative disease can cause the discs of the back to become compressed and bulge outward or rupture.

Radiculopathy

If a spinal nerve root becomes compressed, inflamed, or injured, it can result in pain, numbness, or tingling. These sensations travel or radiate to other areas of the body that are served by the injured nerve.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a type or radiculopathy that involves the compression of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that travels from the back through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. The pain can be shooting or burning and radiate from the lower back down into the legs, occasionally reaching the feet.

In the most extreme cases, the nerve gets pinched between the disc and adjacent bone, leading to numbness and muscle weakness because of the loss of nerve signaling.

Spondylolisthesis

Also called a “slipped disc,” spondylolisthesis is when a vertebrae slips out of place, pinching the nerves in the spinal column.

Traumatic Injury

Your back is vulnerable to traumatic injury in a variety of situations, including while playing sports, from car accidents, or during a fall at work.

Any of these injuries can injure tendons, ligaments, or muscles or cause the spine to become compressed and lead to a disco to rupture or herniate. The herniation exerts pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord, causing back pain and sciatica.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spine and nerves. This pressure causes pain or weakness when walking and, over time, leads to leg weakness.

Skeletal Irregularities

Congenital spinal conditions can cause chronic back pain. Some of those conditions include scoliosis, which is a curvature of the spine that can cause pain in middle age and lordosis, an abnormally pronounced arch of the lower back.

Infections

Though uncommon, serious infections can cause back pain.

Infections that involve the vertebrae are called osteomyelitis; those involving the intervertebral discs are called discitis; and those involving the sacroiliac joints connecting the lower spine to the pelvis are called sacroiliitis.

Tumors

Tumors occasionally begin in the back, but more often form as the result of cancer that has spread from elsewhere in the body.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

Sometimes, a ruptured disc is pushed into the spinal canal and compresses the bundle of lumbar and sacral nerve roots, causing a rare complication.

This nerve root compression causes loss of bladder and bowel control and can lead to permanent neurological damage if left untreated.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

The large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs can become enlarged. Back pain with this condition is a sign that the aneurysm is getting larger and you should be assessed for risk of rupture.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can cause sharp back pain, usually on one side of the body.

Inflammatory Joint Diseases

When the joints become inflamed as the result of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and spondylitis can cause back pain.

Osteoporosis

The metabolic bone disease that is marked by a progressive decrease in bone density and strength can lead to fractures of the vertebrae and pain.

Endometriosis

A buildup of uterine tissues in places outside the uterus, such as the abdominal cavity, can cause back pain.

Fibromyalgia

The chronic pain condition that involves widespread muscle pain and fatigue may include back pain.

What Are Some Risk Factors for Back Pain?

While anyone is at risk of developing back pain due to a traumatic injury, there are some things that make people more likely to develop back pain.

Some of the risk factors include:

  • Age: Initial occurrences of back pain typically happen between the ages of 30 and 50, and only get worse with age. Age also increases the likelihood of some of the underlying conditions that cause back pain, such as osteoporosis and arthritis.
  • Fitness level: A weak back and abdominal muscles cannot properly support the spinal column, meaning people who aren’t physically fit are more likely to experience back pain. Additionally, those who exercise only occasionally instead of several times per week are more likely to experience back pain and injury as a result of their physical activity.
  • Pregnancy: Pelvic changes, weight gain, and changes to a woman’s center of gravity can cause back pain that usually resolves postpartum.
  • Weight gain: Being obese, overweight, or suddenly gaining a large amount of weight can cause back pain.
  • Genetics: Some of the causes of back pain, such as scoliosis and ankylosing spondylitis, have a genetic component.
  • Occupational hazards: What type of work you do, and the tasks you do on a daily basis, can make you more likely to develop back pain. If you must lift, push, or pull heavy objects, especially if you have to twist your spine, you may be more likely to develop back pain. Also, having a desk job and sitting with poor posture for hours daily can contribute to back pain.
  • Mental health factors: Anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems can impact your perception of pain and how you deal with it.
  • Poor backpack or purse use: Carrying a backpack that’s overloaded, wearing a heavy purse on the same shoulder every day, or carrying a bag that’s not suited to the load you carry can cause postural imbalance, strain, and muscle fatigue.

How Is Back Pain Diagnosed?

While it may seem as if simply being able to identify that you have back pain is enough to diagnose it, determining whether there are any injuries or underlying conditions that are causing the back pain is crucial to finding the correct treatment.

Your doctor will begin the diagnostic process by taking a complete medical history; asking about the type, severity, length, and location of your pain; and whether your pain prevents you from performing any of your daily activities.

A back examination will likely be conducted, as well as some neurological testing and other diagnostic testing. Some of the tests your doctor may order include:

X-Rays

To screen for broken bones or injured vertebrae, an X-ray often is the first type of imaging done.

An X-ray shows bony structures, as well as any misalignment or fractures. It will not, however, show soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments, or bulging discs.

CT Scan

To see disc rupture, spinal stenosis, tumors, or other issues that aren’t visible on an X-ray, your doctor may order a CT scan. A CT scan creates a three-dimensional image by taking a series of two-dimensional pictures.

Myelograms

A contrast dye is injected into the spinal canal, allowing spinal cord and nerve compression caused by herniated discs or fractures. This procedure enhances the images captured by X-rays or CT scans.

Discography

If other imaging procedures fail to find the cause of your pain, a discography may be done.

In this procedure, a contrast dye is injected into a spinal disc thought to be causing your back pain. The additional pressure of the fluid injected into the disc will replicate your symptoms if the correct disc is found.

The dye also helps show any damaged areas of the discs for more precise pinpointing of the issues.

MRI

To see the soft tissues of your back, such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, and and blood vessels, your doctor may order an MRI.

An MRI uses magnetic force instead of radiation to get a view of the back in the event that infection, tumor, inflammation, disc herniation or rupture, or pressure on the nerve is suspected as the cause of your back pain. Unless there are obvious signs of an underlying condition, an MRI typically isn’t ordered in the early stages of back pain.

Electrodiagnosis

Electrodiagnosis consists of procedures that can be used to confirm whether a person has lumbar radiculopathy. These procedures include:

  • Electromyography (EMG): Fine needles are inserted into muscles to measure electrical activity transmitted from the brain or spinal cord to specific areas of the body. This procedure is used to assess the electrical activity in a muscle and can detect if muscle weakness is the result of a problem with the nerves that control the muscles.
  • Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS): Two sets of electrodes are placed on the skin over the muscles. The first set provides a mild shock to stimulate the nerve that runs to a particular muscle. The second set records the nerve’s electrical signals to detect nerve damage that slows conduction of the nerve signal. NCSs can be conducted along with EMGs to rule out conditions that mimic radiculopathy.
  • Evoked Potential (EP) Studies: EP tests also use two sets of electrodes. The first set stimulates a sensory nerve, while the second is placed on the scalp to record the speed of nerve signal transmissions to the brain.

Bone Scans

If your back pain is suspected to be the result of a bone condition such as infection, fracture, or disorders of the bone, a bone scan may be ordered.

A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream, which collects in the bones. This radioactive material particularly collects in areas that have bone damage.

The images gathered can be used to identify areas of irregular bone metabolism, abnormal blood flow, or to measure levels of joint disease.

Ultrasound

High-frequency sound waves produce images of the inside of the body and can show tears in ligaments, muscles, and tendons, or other masses of soft tissue in the back.

Blood Tests

While blood tests aren’t usually used to diagnose back pain, they can be used to look for signs of infection, inflammation, or the presence of arthritis. Blood tests also can be used to look for genetic markers of specific diseases, such as ankylosing spondylitis.

How Is Back Pain Treated?

The treatment for back pain depends greatly upon the source and whether it’s acute or chronic.

Some possible treatments for back pain include:

  • Hot or cold ice packs: They may help temporarily ease pain, allowing for greater mobility.
  • Activity: While bed rest may seem natural when you’re in pain, mild activity including stretching is recommended for better recovery and mobility. Avoid activities that make back pain worse.
  • Strengthening exercises: If you have chronic back pain, engaging in some muscle strengthening exercises can help improve coordination, develop correct posture, and improve muscle balance.
  • Physical therapy: During physical therapy, the core muscle groups that support the back are strengthened, mobility and flexibility is improved, and correct posture is developed to help improve the immediate symptoms of back pain while correcting underlying weaknesses that can contribute to pain.
  • Medications: There is a wide range of medications, both over-the-counter and prescription, that can help with back pain. Some common medications include analgesics, such as acetaminophen and codeine, for pain relief; NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, which decrease pain and inflammation; anticonvulsants, mostly used to treat seizures, which may be useful in treating those with radiculopathy and radicular pain; antidepressants, which can be prescribed for chronic back pain; and counter-irritants, which are creams or sprays that can provide topical pain relief.
  • Chiropractic adjustments: Chiropractic adjustments repair misalignment in the spine that may contribute to back pain, and helps improve blood flow to damaged muscles and tissue for faster healing.
  • Traction: Weights and pulleys are used to gently “pull” the skeletal structure into better alignment. The relief felt from traction often is temporary and pain returns soon after the patient is released from traction.
  • Acupuncture: Thin needles are inserted into the surface of the skin at specific points on the body, particularly where you experience pain. Traditional practitioners believe the process clears blockages in the body’s Qi, or life force. Those skeptical of the traditional belief think the stimulation of the needles, either from twisting or passing a light electrical current through them, releases naturally occurring painkilling chemicals such as serotonin, endorphins, and acetylcholine.
  • Biofeedback: Electrodes are attached to the skin and an electromyography machine, and the readings on the machine help patients become aware of and self-regulate their breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, and temperature. By learning to regulate these responses, patients can manage their response to pain.
  • Nerve block therapies: Nerve block therapies hope to relieve chronic pain by blocking nerve conduction from different areas of the body. Some types of nerve block therapies include injection of local anesthetics, botulinum toxin (often known as Botox), or steroids into the areas where you experience pain; nerve root blocks; and spinal cord stimulation.
  • Epidural steroid injections: Steroids are injected into the area where you experience pain, bringing relief. However, epidural steroid injections provide only temporary relief and must be repeated.
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS): With TENS, the patient wears a battery-powered device and attaches electrodes to the skin in the area where pain is felt. The device generates electrical impulses designed to block incoming pain signals from the nerves and, in turn, modify the perception of pain.
  • Surgery: When other therapies fail, or the back pain is caused by an injury or malformation that requires correcting, surgery may be necessary. However, surgery isn’t always a guaranteed fix for back pain and requires a long healing process.

How Is Back Pain Prevented?

While some forms of back pain aren’t preventable, such as those with genetic causes or those that are caused by sudden traumatic injuries, many adults can prevent back pain or decrease the severity of back pain by taking some preventative measures.

Some ways you can prevent back pain include:

  • Avoiding movements that jolt or strain the back
  • Maintaining correct posture
  • Properly lifting heavy objects
  • Using ergonomically designed furniture and equipment
  • Using lumbar supports to support the back and abdominal muscles
  • Exercise often. Even light exercise such as walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding can help
  • Stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity
  • Make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height
  • Switch sitting positions occasionally, and get up to walk around regularly
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
  • Sleep on a firm surface, on one side, and with your knees drawn up in a fetal position
  • Maintain proper diet and exercise to avoid excessive weight gain
  • Ensure you’re getting proper doses of calcium, phosphorous, and Vitamin D to encourage bone growth
  • Quit smoking

How Can Chiropractic Care Help with Back Pain?

Chiropractic care is a medical discipline that’s used to treat musculoskeletal conditions, including problems with the muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues such as cartilage, ligaments, and tendons.

Some back pain is caused by a misalignment of the spine, called a subluxation. These subluxations can occur as the result of genetics, everyday use, age, and injuries.

Back pain also can be caused by tearing of the muscles and tendons, or bruising and damage to the soft tissue.

Chiropractic care is aimed at correcting these subluxations, bringing the spine back into proper alignment. An adjustment also can help strengthen and support the muscles surrounding the spine, decreasing pain and inflammation.

Blood flow to the tissues and muscles of the back is stimulated during a chiropractic adjustment. When blood flow is improved, tears in the muscles can be repaired and inflammation is decreased. This helps decrease your back pain and brings you relief from your symptoms.

What Are Some Benefits of Chiropractic Care for Back Pain?

Chiropractic care does help to repair the damage that causes back pain, providing relief.

However, there are other benefits to seeing a chiropractor for your back pain, including:

Treatment of Non-Obvious Conditions

Sometimes, even a battery of diagnostic tests can’t give you true answers about the source of your back pain.

A chiropractic adjustment can provide pain relief and healing to a condition that may not be seen on traditional diagnostic tests, improving your medical outcomes and decreasing your pain.

Non-Invasive

If you suffer from chronic back pain that isn’t responding to other treatment, you may feel that surgery is your only viable option.

However, back surgery is expensive, risky, requires a long recovery, and may not even work to fix your problem.

Chiropractic care provides non-invasive pain relief that requires no recovery time and is an affordable way to alleviate your pain.

Drug-Free

Using medications for your back pain can be dangerous and addictive.

As you test different types of medication, you may need stronger, more powerful drugs and doses. This can lead to using opioids, which are highly addictive and can be risky.

Additionally, trying new medications brings up new side effects, which can leave you feeling worse than you back pain does.

Chiropractic care, on the other hand, treats the source of your pain without medication, leaving you without side effects but with relief from your pain.

What’s Involved in Chiropractic Care for Back Pain?

Choosing chiropractic care for your back pain isn’t a quick-fix solution. Your treatment will take time and patience, but it can give you significant relief in the end.

There are three main phases of chiropractic care for back pain:

Evaluation & Treatment Plan

Before you can receive your first adjustment, the chiropractor must evaluate your back pain and injuries and develop a treatment plan.

The process begins by collecting a full medical history, information on your back pain, your ability to complete everyday tasks, and your goals for treatment. Your medical records may also be ordered from your primary care doctor or other specialists.

If you’ve had prior imaging or testing done, the chiropractor may want to see the results from those tests, as well. If you have not had imaging, you may be sent for X-rays or other diagnostic procedures.

During your first appointment, your chiropractor may perform a physical examination and initial adjustment. You may feel relief right away.

Once your chiropractor has a better idea of what type of treatment you need, they create an individualized treatment plan to address your condition and your goals. This treatment plan will be used throughout your care to guide the frequency and type of adjustments, as well as any at-home exercises or other things that will support your treatment.

As you move through your treatment, your chiropractor may revise the treatment plan to better serve your needs and goals.

Treatment

Once your treatment plan is developed, you move into the treatment phase.

This phase can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months, depending on the severity of your pain and your needs.

Your chiropractor will gently adjust your spine to release any subluxations, decreasing inflammation and pain in the muscle and surrounding tissue, allowing your body to begin healing.

Initially, you may be seen by your chiropractor several times a week. But as your symptoms improve and you begin to regain proper mobility and function, the frequency of your in-office treatment may decrease to once a week or less.

Maintenance

Eventually, you will meet maximum healing and have achieved most of your treatment goals.

Once you’ve reached this point, you move into the maintenance phase of chiropractic care. Your chiropractor will decrease frequency of care to once a month or only as you feel adjustments are necessary.

Ongoing chiropractic care helps keep your spine in the proper position and strengthens the muscles in your back, keeping you healthy, decreasing your risk of re-injury, and increasing your feelings of well-being.

Decrease Back Pain with Eugene’s #1 Chiropractic Team

Get the safe, lasting relief from back pain you’ve dreamt of thanks to the experienced chiropractic team at Eugene Family Chiropractic. Our doctors thoroughly evaluate your injuries, discusses your goals for treatment, and develops a comprehensive treatment plan to give you the best chance for success. Schedule your first appointment today!