The back is a complex, interconnecting structure of bones, muscles, tendons, tissues, nerves and joints. It is made up of 24 small bones, or vertebrae, that are stacked on top of each other to form the spinal cord. This intricate architecture can cause pain and discomfort that ranges in intensity from mild to severe. In fact, about 80 percent of all Americans have experienced back problems at some point in their lives.
You use your back when you stand, sit, bend, twist, lift and carry, so having a healthy, strong back is essential for a positive quality of life and your everyday comfort. Through regular exercise, proper body posture and toned muscle strength, you can help reduce and prevent unnecessary spinal strain and back problems.
Back Pain Causes
Low back pain is very common. It has numerous causes including:
- Compressed nerves
- Herniated disks
- Spinal stenosis
- Back strain
- Injured muscles, joints, ligaments or bones
- Degenerative diseases
- Changes in the shape of the spine
- Poor posture and body mechanics
Other causes of back pain include osteoporosis, arthritis, scoliosis, repetitive motion, obesity, injury and stress.
Back Pain Diagnosis
Evaluation of back pain begins with a patient history and examinations that include motor and sensory function.
X-rays may be required and further studies, such as computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, electromyography, myleography or diskography.
Back Pain Treatment
Most people with back pain can recover without surgery. Non-surgical treatment includes pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, steroid injections, applied heat or cold, rest, traction, support, massage and physical therapy.
Medications for Back Pain
Pain is often caused by muscle spasms in the back or neck. Medications like muscle relaxants, painkillers, anti-inflammatory steroids or over-the-counter pain relievers are often prescribed to manage and relieve chronic or lasting pain. Our physicians will work closely to identify the most effective medication for you.
Injections for Back Pain
Our interventional spine physicians use a variety of steroids and anti-inflammatory injections to decrease swelling, aching and pressure in the back. Injections are performed with a local anesthetic to numb the area, so that patients are comfortable.
While the frequency of injections varies, most patients receive a routine series of 3 injections every 1 to 2 weeks until the pain lessens and resolves. Physical therapy is often performed in combination with injections to provide the best healing results.
Physical Therapy for Back Pain
At Wake Forest Baptist, we have a comprehensive physical medicine and rehabilitation program that specializes in providing physician-driven therapeutic treatments for patients suffering with recurrent or new back pain.
While simple changes like wearing orthotic shoes, sitting in a specific chair or stretching can relive some back and neck discomfort, physical therapy may be needed if your pain persists for longer than 3 days. We offer several different physical therapy and rehabilitation techniques focused on relieving aching, pain, weakness and stiffness.
Reducing your immediate pain is important, however we want the results to be lasting. Our spine physicians and therapists are trained in the latest methods to help restore movement and function and improve overall fitness so that you can reduce the chance of future back and neck problems.
Surgery for Back Pain
If medication, injections or physical therapy are not effective, spine surgery may be recommended as a treatment option. Depending on your specific needs, the following procedures may be needed, individually or in combination:
Wake Forest Baptist Health Approach
Wake Forest Baptist has a long and well-established multi-disciplinary program for diagnosing and treating back pain.
Our team includes experts from neurology, neurosurgery, orthopaedics, anesthesiology, physical and occupational therapy, and psychology. Every component of spine-care management is available at the Medical Center.