Using this guide What's covered
What causes back pain?
Back pain can have many different causes. Starting with an accurate diagnosis of your pain is important so treatment can be tailored to suit the problem. Muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and spinal discs can all be sources of back pain, and it can vary in duration and severity.
The most common causes of back pain are osteoarthritis, osteoporotic fractures, muscle spasms, disc herniation, scoliosis, spinal stenosis and traumatic fractures. Back pain can also be caused by trauma, fibromyalgia, instability, torticollis (wry neck), cervical dystonia and ligament injuries. Disorders in the sacroiliac joint in your pelvis is another common cause of back pain. Infections and tumours are less likely causes of back pain.
Bone density loss whether severe (Osteoporosis) or mild (Osteopaenia) is often associated with ageing. Both conditions can lead to vertebral compression fractures. These fractures may cause pain and deformity and result in the rounding of your upper back. Osteoporosis can result in fragile bones and crush fractures of the spine. This weakness can also increase your risk of falls. Osteoarthritis can also lead to degenerated discs that are prone to prolapse, tearing and rupture (slipped disc).
What helps with back pain?
Back pain often resolves by itself after days, weeks or months. But it can return if you lift something heavy, twist suddenly, sit for too long or have a fall. There are several things you can do to relieve the pain, address the underlying problem and prevent a recurrence. Some you can do by yourself and others include help from health professionals. If your quality of life is being significantly compromised, there are surgical options that help some people, but it’s important to understand their risks and benefits.
Things you can for yourself
Your options for managing back pain include:
- doing things differently
- short rest
- weight loss
- TENS machine
- improving your mood
- mindful meditation
- hot and cold packs.
How health professionals can help
You can get help for your back pain from many different health professionals, including:
- occupational therapist
- chiropractor or osteopath
- massage therapist
- psychological counsellor
- pain specialist
- interventional radiologist
If your doctor is concerned about the cause of your back pain, they may refer you for a diagnostic procedure, such as:
- CT scan
- EMG: Electromyography – electrical muscle activity test
- SSEP: somatosensory evoked potentials – test for sensory nerves pathway to the sensory areas of the brain
- Discogram: test to determine the specific intervertebral disc causing pain
- bone scan
For back pain that persists, there are several interventions that you can consider ahead of surgery. They include:
- pain management program
- spinal cord stimulator
- intrathecal pain pump
- spinal traction
- cold laser
Learn about the range of over-the-counter and prescription medications that may help relieve your back pain — and which ones to avoid. These include:
- over-the-counter medications
- oral prescription medications
- injectable prescription medications.
Back pain surgeries
If you’ve suffered trauma to your back, if the pain has become chronic, or if it’s seriously limiting your activities, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery is usually considered as a last resort because it may not have better outcomes than non-invasive treatment. However your doctor may recommend early surgery to reduce the risk of irreversible damage. Your doctor will probably refer you to a spine specialist for advice.
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