Low Back Pain: Diagnosis and Treatment
Back pain doesn’t have to mean a lifetime of suffering. Most causes of back pain can be treated nonsurgically with excellent results. That’s why we’re happy to present this information – in hopes that it will help you live pain free.
If you struggle with low back pain, you’re in good company. Research suggests that 70-80% of the population will experience at least one episode of low back pain over the course of their lifetime. Plus, it’s been listed as one of the top causes of disability and missed work, and can affect people of all ages – though the majority of people who suffer from low back pain tend to be between the ages of 35 and 55, and men seem to be more likely to develop back pain. Other known risk factors include stress and poor coping skills, depression, obesity, smoking, and poor posture or body mechanics.
Episodes of low back pain can resolve on their own, however if left untreated it’s more likely that back pain will recur or develop into a chronic problem. While some people ultimately require surgery to resolve their symptoms, it’s generally recommended that most should explore conservative treatment options first. At our pain management clinic, we offer a variety of non-surgical options including physical therapy, massage therapy, and injections. Our treatment options have made a significant impact on our patients’ function and quality of life, without exposing them to the added risks inherent with invasive surgical procedures.
Diagnosing Low Back Pain: Top Symptoms & Underlying Causes
Low back pain is not a single disease process. Instead, doctors and researchers think of it more like a syndrome that comes with a broad range of symptoms. These symptoms can vary widely from person to person, but the ones most commonly reported by people who suffer from acute or chronic low back pain include:
- Pain in the lower back, often described as dull, throbbing, aching, or even sharp with certain movements
- Lower back stiffness
- Pain that can radiate down into the buttocks, hips, and one or both legs (often described as dull, searing, burning, or throbbing)
- Muscle spasms
- Decreased activity tolerance
- Difficulty sleeping
In many cases, the exact underlying cause of a person’s low back pain symptoms is not always obvious. Interestingly, this is not necessarily a barrier to healing. Current evidence from physical therapy research suggests that designing a treatment plan based on symptoms rather than diagnosis can significantly improve outcomes and reduce disability. This is especially important for those patients who have inconclusive diagnostic results that don’t paint a clear picture of what’s really going on.
That said, it’s still worthwhile to identify the underlying cause a person’s low back pain when possible. Common ways to diagnose a low back problem include imaging studies (like an X-ray or MRI), nerve conduction velocity tests, and special tests performed during a physical exam. Results of these tests may identify one or more unique conditions, the most common of which include:
- Muscle spasm or strain: damage and inflammation to a spinal muscle, often due to trauma or as a compensation of an underlying injury
- Ligament sprain: damage and inflammation to a spinal ligament, which holds bones together
- Disc bulge or herniation: misalignment or damage to one or more intervertebral spinal discs
- Arthritis: degenerative and inflammatory condition affect joints
- Stenosis: narrowing of spinal canal
- Sciatica: pinching and inflammation of the sciatic nerve
- Scoliosis: an abnormal curve of the spine
Non-Surgical Solutions to Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain
Deciding to undergo surgery is a big deal and requires a lot of consideration and input from your medical doctor, your surgeon, yourself, and even your loved ones. Back surgery is generally only recommended if a person’s back pain has not improved after extensive conservative treatment, and if a specific diagnosis is available. Studies also suggest that people who have wide reaching symptoms – like pain extending into their legs – tend to do better after surgery compared to people with symptoms only in their back.
At our clinic, we believe that surgery should generally be considered a last resort, and we offer several non-surgical options for people struggling with low back pain. This includes:
- Physical Therapy: We have a staff of board-certified physical therapists who offer a variety of therapeutic options. These may include corrective exercises to increase the strength, flexibility, and endurance of your postural muscles; spinal decompression and joint mobilizations to reduce pressure on spinal discs and nerves; modalities like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and ice to relieve pain and inflammation; and body mechanics and postural re-training to prevent recurrence.
- Massage Therapy: Our licensed massage therapists promote healing by relaxing muscle spasms, mobilizing soft tissue, and increasing blood flow and lymphatic drainage around the low back. Massage therapy also has a positive and calming effect on the brain, which can promote better sleep, stress relief, and improved mood.
- Injections: Steroids are a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. When injected into your spine, these steroids can significantly reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Not only can this relieve your symptoms, but it can also allow you to participate more with your physical therapy, further maximizing your functional outcomes.
Are You Ready to Take “Back” Your Health?
We are a comprehensive Pain Management and Sports Medicine clinic offering non-surgical solutions to low back pain and other causes of dysfunction for the people of Ramsey, NJ and surrounding communities in Bergen County and NYC. If you or a loved one is struggling with low back pain, call our staff today to request an appointment or to learn more about our services. We look forward to working with you, and helping you live pain free!