Pain is a four-letter word. No matter your age, gender, or lifestyle, back pain can happen to anyone. If you have never uttered “how can I make this pain go away” when struggling to get out of bed in the morning, you are one of the lucky ones.
In a study conducted to determine the global burden of low back pain, researchers discovered that low back pain was the leading cause of disability worldwide. Additionally, “prevalence and burden increased with age.” From 1990 to 2015, the global rate of disability from low back pain rose 54%. Source. While back pain can happen at any age, our chance of suffering from low back pain increases as we get older.
Low Back Pain Impact on Daily Life
Typically, low back pain can be attributed to a spine condition that impacts a structure in the back such as:
Pain is, of course, tightly associated with a physical experience such as sharp, stinging sensations or dull but persistent aches. But there are also significant emotional and psychological components to suffering from low back pain that can impact your daily life. Low back pain can make it difficult or even impossible to function in a social setting like sitting for hours in a movie theater or standing during a birthday celebration with family.
Suffering from low back pain can make it difficult to sleep which can have a compounding effect. Going too long with too little or poor quality sleep can lead to feelings of depression and/or anxiety. Suffering from chronic pain can even impact cognitive function such as concentration and reasoning.
How Do I Know What Type of Pain I Have?
Generally speaking, low back pain can fall into 2 main categories: acute back pain or chronic back pain. Orthopedic surgeon and spine expert Dr. Sujal Patel explains the difference between these 2 types of pain.
Acute Back Pain
“Acute low back pain can result from anything including repetitive activities or some sort of trauma. These experiences can lead to pain in the lower back itself as well as pain that radiates into the legs. The most common cause of acute low back pain is a strain to the lower back, injuring a disc that can cause pain across the lower back and often into the legs.” – Dr. Sujal Patel
Acute low back pain is usually triggered by simple, everyday movements that you use every day such as walking or getting out of bed. In many cases, general activity like bending over to pick something up can lead to a sharp or piercing pain in the low back. Typically, acute low back pain lasts between a few days to a few weeks.
Chronic Back Pain
“Chronic back pain can be disc related such as spinal stenosis or sciatic pain, or it can be progressive such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease. In either case, chronic pain will typically develop or progress over time to the point where the pain is constant. Like acute low back pain, chronic low back pain can span the lower back as well as into the leg.” – Dr. Sujal Patel
Acute low back pain can develop into chronic low back pain, even after the injury or trauma has healed. Chronic low back pain typically persists for 12 weeks or longer. Common situations that lead to chronic low back pain include muscle atrophy, poor posture, aging, overuse/repetition, and trauma or injury.
Other Notable Pain Types that Help Determine Treatment
Low back pain can be further categorized in ways that help orthopedic specialists. 2 common types of pain that help determine a diagnosis and treatment include:
- Neuropathic Pain in the Low Back. Neuropathic low back pain results from an injury, trauma, or disease impacting nearby nerve roots that supply the spine and lower limbs.
- Radicular Low Back Pain. Radicular low back pain originates in the lumbar spine and travels along the compressed, pinched, or inflamed nerve into the hips and legs.
Putting It All Together
If your low back pain is affecting your mood, daily activities, and overall quality of life, it may be time to speak with a spine specialist who can help you find a solution. Explaining your acute or chronic pain and other symptoms can help to determine the right diagnosis and treatment for your condition. Follow these guidelines for ways to effectively explain your back pain to your doctor and get the treatment that you need to get back to normal.
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