All About Chronic Low Back Pain: Clifton Pain Specialists
Low Back Pain: It’s More Common Than You Think
If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you’re not the only one. Back pain is one of the most common types of pain, especially lower back pain or lumbago. In fact, more than 80% of Americans will experience low back pain throughout their lives.
The lower back area spans from the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your legs, and it works quite hard to support the upper body—which is why it’s no surprise that it tends to present issues at one point or another.
Even though back pain can be caused by certain diseases, it can also result from factors like aging, lack of exercise, or lifting something heavy. The pain level varies depending on the case; in some cases, it might feel like a dull, constant discomfort that doesn’t disrupt daily activities, but in others, it might feel sharp and stabbing. Back pain can begin suddenly after an accident or strenuous activity, or it can develop over time.
There are two types of back pain: acute or short-term, which lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and chronic, which lasts more than three months. Low back pain is most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50 but can happen at any age, even to children.
If you are experiencing chronic low back pain and live in Clifton or other New Jersey locations, you can find relief at Premier Pain Clinics. We have highly skilled pain management specialists that are fully prepared to study your case and offer you the treatment plan that fits you best.
Lower Back Anatomy 101
When describing your lower back pain to a professional, it may be helpful to understand what exactly makes up your lower back, or lumbar spine. First of all, your spine in this region has a natural inward curve called lordosis, which helps with the balance and distribution of weights from your upper body. Lordosis can increase or decrease if there is a problem in your lower back, and this can be one of the factors that contribute to low back pain.
Your lower back also contains five small bones, called vertebrae, stacked together with intervertebral discs in between. The lumbar vertebrae are labeled L1 to L5 and progressively increase in size, supporting the upper body and protecting important nervous tissue. The five intervertebral discs are fibrocartilages that cushion and protect the vertebrae as the body moves. Ligaments hold the vertebrae in place, and tendons connect the muscles to the spinal column, stabilizing it and allowing movement.
Additionally, there are five pairs of lumbar spinal nerves rooted to the spinal cord; these nerves are labeled L1 to L5 as well and progressively increase in size. They send and receive messages between the body and the brain, controlling body movements.
Lastly, there are three vital tissues in your lower back: the spinal cord, the conus medullaris, which is the point where the spinal cord ends, and the cauda equina, which is a group of spinal nerves that descends from the conus medullaris and forms a shape similar to that of a horse’s tail.
What Are the Causes of Low Back Pain?
Low back pain can appear suddenly, like when you lift something heavy or develop over time. Most low back pain, however, is mechanical, which means the muscles of the vertebral column have suffered abnormal stress and strain in some form. This can occur for many different reasons:
This includes sprains, strains, and spasms. The difference between a sprain and a strain, which both involve overstretching or tearing, is that a sprain refers to ligaments while a strain refers to muscles and tendons. It also includes trauma from an accident such as a fall, a car accident, or while playing sports. In these types of scenarios, ligaments, tendons or muscles may be affected, and discs may rupture or herniate due to excessive compression.
Nerve and spinal cord conditions
A variety of problems in the spinal cord can cause low back pain. Some of them are:
- Sciatica: A pressure in the sciatic nerve (the nerve that extends from the lower back down the back of the leg).
- Spinal stenosis: A narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves.
- Spondylolisthesis: When a vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place and pinches spinal nerves.
- Disk injury: Intervertebral discs are prone to injury, especially as age increases. They can get herniated or ruptured when compressed.
- Osteoporosis: A progressive disease that weakens and thins the bones, making them more prone to fractures.
These are usually caused by aging and involve a gradual loss of normal structure and function of the spine. They develop over a longer period.
- Disk degeneration: When intervertebral disks naturally wear down and lose their capacity to cushion the vertebrae effectively.
- Spondylosis: A general degeneration of the spine that comes with aging.
- Arthritis: An inflammation of the joints—one of its main causes is aging, but it can also be a result of an infection or an underlying disease.
Congenital spinal abnormalities such as spina bifida or scoliosis.
- Infections of the vertebrae, discs, or joints in the spine.
- Kidney stones.
- Fibromyalgia (chronic pain and fatigue in the joints, tendons, and muscles).
- Endometriosis (a gynecological condition in which the tissue lining the uterus grows outside of the uterus).
- Ovarian cysts.
Who Has a Higher Risk of Developing Low Back Pain?
Although anyone can have back pain, here are some factors that may increase the risk:
- Age: People become more prone to back pain between the ages of 30 and 50, and the risk increases more as age advances. The wearing and tearing that come with it make a person more susceptible to developing spinal conditions.
- Lack of physical activity: Having weak back and abdominal muscles can increase the risk of back pain by not properly supporting the structure of the spine. Additionally, doing intense exercise after having been inactive for a while can also increase the risk of back injuries.
- Obesity or being overweight: This can put excessive stress on the back and cause low back pain.
- Genetics: Some genetic factors can contribute to painful spinal conditions.
- Strenuous daily activities: Performing activities at work or in daily life that involve heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or twisting can lead to injuries in the spine. Even carrying a heavy backpack can contribute to this.
- Posture: A poor posture, especially if working on a desk all day, can contribute to back pain.
- Mental and emotional health: Depression, anxiety, and stress can make someone more prone to experiencing back pain and influence pain perception. Stress also tends to cause muscle tension, which can lead to back pain.
Diagnosing Low Back Pain
A physical exam and medical history are usually the starting point to diagnosing the cause of your back pain.
During the examination, your doctor will most likely check your reflexes and responses to certain sensations, to determine if nerves are being affected. If the pain persists for a few weeks and cannot be solved with simple home treatment, that’s when you’ll probably need to get additional tests.
Depending on your case, tests ordered by your doctor may include:
- Imaging tests such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These are detailed pictures of areas inside your body.
- Electrodiagnostics such as electromyography (EMG) or nerve conduction studies (NCS) are used to determine if you have any injuries related to nerve or muscle function by measuring their electrical activity.
- Bone scans, which can help detect an infection, fracture, or any problem in your bones. They consist of injecting a very small amount of a radioactive drug (the tracer) into a vein and then taking a scan that will highlight abnormal bone metabolism in areas where the tracer has accumulated.
Our back pain specialists in Clifton and other NJ or PA locations will evaluate your case and accurately diagnose your condition to define the best treatment option for you. Leave us your information below and we will contact you to help you schedule an appointment or solve any questions you may have.
Treatment Options & When to Seek Medical Advice
Acute back pain can usually get better with home treatment. Here are some of the most common methods:
- Over-the-counter medications such as analgesics like acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
- Alternating ice and heat in the affected area—doctors recommend applying ice for the first 48-72 hours and then moving to heat.
- Topical treatments (creams, gels, patches, etc.) such as lidocaine or capsaicin.
- Gentle stretching (avoid intense exercise).
- A massage.
- A warm shower or bath.
If home treatment methods have not improved your low back pain and the pain persists after 72 hours, you will most likely need medical treatment. There are several types of medical treatment options:
Some medications a doctor may prescribe for low back pain are:
- NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
- Muscle relaxants.
- Steroids to reduce inflammation.
- Narcotic drugs (such as codeine) or opioids for pain relief.
- Antidepressants (even if the patient doesn’t have depression, some antidepressants can help ease certain types of pain).
Complementary and alternative treatments
- Physical therapy may be prescribed to improve mobility, flexibility, and posture. It also helps strengthen core muscles, which serve as a support for the spine, and remove strain from the lower back.
- Acupuncture can be effective in relieving chronic low back pain since it triggers the release of some of the body’s natural painkilling chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin, and acetylcholine. It consists of the insertion of thin needles into specific points of the body to stimulate them with a low-voltage electrical current.
- Behavioral approaches such as biofeedback may be used. This technique uses an electromyography machine and involves placing sensors on your skin that measure your body’s physiological signals (such as breathing, heart rate, muscle movement, and tension, etc.). Based on the feedback received, your doctor suggests different strategies in real-time (usually based on breathing, relaxation, and movement) to change those results and improve symptoms.
Some of the most recommended treatments by our lower back pain specialists at our clinics in NJ are:
- Spinal injections such as trigger point injections can help relax knotted muscles. Trigger point injections usually include a local anesthetic and a corticosteroid drug. Injections are simple, fast procedures and they usually take from a few hours up to two weeks to take effect.
- Radiofrequency ablation (RFA) is a minimally invasive procedure that “burns” the pain-carrying nerves using radiofrequency heat, preventing them from sending pain signals to the brain. It is especially effective for treating back pain, neck pain, and arthritis, and relief typically occurs within the next ten days after the RFA (although some patients experience immediate relief).
- Spinal cord stimulation (SCS) is an effective, minimally invasive treatment option that consists of inserting a small device under the skin that disrupts pain signals before they get to the brain. It is mainly used to treat chronic pain in the back, the neck, or the limbs. Studies have shown that it provides long-term relief in 50% to 80% of patients.
Are you seeking treatment for low back pain relief in NJ or PA? Our Clifton-based back pain specialists can help. Request a consultation below to schedule an appointment and get the best treatment plan for your needs at Premier Pain Clinics.
FAQ About Low Back Pain
How do I know if my low back pain is chronic?
Acute back pain lasts anywhere from a few days to about 12 weeks, and it is usually intense. Chronic back pain lasts more than 12 weeks and it persists even after the cause is addressed. It may range from mild to severe, but it is typically experienced every day and affects quality of life.
Are alternative therapies and interventional pain management safe?
Studies have shown these types of treatments are quite effective in treating low back pain. Although there are possible (mild) side effects, the risk of complications with these procedures is minimal. Our treatments at Premier Pain Clinics are safe, minimally invasive procedures that allow the patient to resume their normal life within a short period of time. Feel free to contact us to know more about our clinics and treatments.
When should I see a doctor about my low back pain?
• When your pain is severe and affects your daily activities.
• When your pain is persistent (if your pain level is significant, you may want to seek help even before 12 weeks have passed).
• When your pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, digestive issues, etc.
• When your pain radiates to other parts of your body and you are experiencing weakness.
How can I schedule an appointment with a specialist?