Back pain is a very common problem and will affect many of us at some point during our lives.
The good news is that in most cases it isn’t a serious problem, and it might just be caused by a simple strain to a muscle or ligament.
- The human back is composed of a complex structure of muscles, ligaments, tendons, disks, and bones, which work together to support the body and enable us to move around.
- The segments of the spine are cushioned with cartilage-like pads called disks.
- Problems with any of these components can lead to back pain. In some cases of back pain, its cause remains unclear.
- Damage can result from strain, medical conditions, and poor posture, among others.
- The main symptom of back pain is an ache or pain anywhere in the back, and sometimes all the way down to the buttocks and legs.
- Some back issues can cause pain in other parts of the body, depending on the nerves affected.
The pain often goes away without treatment, but if it occurs with any of the following people should see their doctor:
- weight loss
- inflammation or swelling on the back
- persistent back pain, where lying down or resting does not help
- pain down the legs
- pain that reaches below the knees
- a recent injury, blow or trauma to the back
- urinary incontinence
- difficulty urinating
- fecal incontinence, or loss of control over bowel movements
- numbness around the genitals
- numbness around the anus
- numbness around the buttocks
When to see a doctor?
You should seek medical help if you experience any numbness or tingling, or if you have back pain:
- that does not improve with rest
- after an injury or fall
- with numbness in the legs
- with weakness
- with fever
- with unexplained weight loss
Taking some painkillers, staying active and doing some specific exercises are generally the most helpful treatments for people with back pain. However, some people will need further medical treatment.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relief medication, usually nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, can relieve discomfort. Applying a hot compress or an ice pack to the painful area may also reduce pain.
Resting from strenuous activity can help, but moving around will ease stiffness, reduce pain, and prevent muscles from weakening.
If home treatments do not relieve back pain, a doctor may recommend the following medication, physical therapy, or both.
Surgery for back pain is very rare. If a patient has a herniated disk surgery may be an option, especially if there is persistent pain and nerve compression which can lead to muscle weakness.
‘Ask Gogodoc About’ is an educational series providing information on various symptoms, pains, and disorders. (*intended for educational purposes only. If you are experiencing symptoms, please reach out to book an online GP consultation with a Gogodoc GP.) Talk to a doctor online at a time that suits you from home with a phone or video appointment. You can easily book an appointment with GP.