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What is Back Pain?
Most back pain is caused by muscle strain, trauma or spinal deformity. Only about 10 percent of back pain is caused by a systemic illness. Back pain can develop anywhere from the neck to the lower spine. The pain can be localized or spread across a wide area and radiate from a central point.
Back pain has many causes, including overuse, trauma, degeneration of vertebrae, infection, or tumor. The exact cause of pain may be difficult to identify, since it can come from soft tissue, bone, disc or nerves. Risk factors for low back pain include cigarette smoking, jobs that require repetitive or heavy lifting, and exposure to vibration produced by vehicles or industrial machinery. Certain sports, such as cross-country skiing, and prolonged vehicle driving are also associated with back pain. Diseases such as spinal osteoarthritis, spondylitis and compression fractures can also cause pain. Some of these diseases are more prevalent in the elderly, consequently older people are at higher risk for back pain.
Back pain is the most prevalent medical disorder in industrialized societies.
Low back pain disables 5.4 million Americans and costs at least $16 billion each year.
Two-thirds of all adults will experience at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime.
Seventy percent of people with back pain recover within a month. Symptoms persist for more than six months in only 4 percent of the cases, but this group accounts for 85 percent of the money spent on treatment and compensation for low back pain.
About half of the people with chronic back pain return to work.
Physicians should determine whether pain is musculoskeletal, neurological or from one of the organs. This diagnosis is based on a careful history and physical examination. Injection of a local anesthetic and/or steroid into soft tissue or joint spaces can be helpful in diagnosing and treating back pain. Imaging procedures that assist in identifying the pain source include the x-ray, bone scan, computerized tomography (CAT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Expensive imaging procedures are generally reserved for patients whose diagnosis is not apparent with more conventional diagnostic techniques.
Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, are often the only treatment necessary for back pain. Patients should avoid any activity that increases the pain. For persistent pain, assistance from a rheumatologist should be obtained. Treatment should be directed at the specific cause of pain. Management techniques include analgesics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, muscle relaxants and rehabilitation exercises. Mechanical back supports are usually recommended for limited periods of