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Three Types of Back Pain: How to Treat the Hurt

Back pain is inevitable for about 80% of us within our lifetime. The pain we experience could be caused by nerves, muscles, ligaments, or bones. It could be structural, like fractures, bone spurs, or pinched nerves. It may be caused by a genetic abnormality, you may have suffered an injury, or it may be from the normal wear and tear of aging or arthritis. Sometimes the way we sit or stand, our posture, or our stressful lifestyle can contribute to back pain. Not realizing you are tightening your muscles from stress or neck strain caused by repetitive activities can also be the source of back pain.

There are myriad causes, and the description of your pain and symptoms is essential so that a pain management specialist can properly diagnose and treat you. For example, in a condition called fibromyalgia, symptoms often begin after an event, such as physical trauma, surgery, infection, or significant psychological stress. Fibromyalgia causes musculoskeletal pain throughout the body. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

Three Main Types of Back Pain

Keep in mind back pain can radiate to other parts of the body, which is why seeking treatment for pain is crucial. Proper diagnosis means the pain you’re experiencing might have effective treatment options that can improve your pain and quality of life. When making a diagnosis, experts classify three main types of back pain:

  1. Referred pain is characterized as dull and achy. It’s sometimes referred to as traveling back pain because it tends to move around and vary in intensity. The source of the pain may be a bulging or herniated disc in the lower back that radiates pain outward and away from the back. Referred pain can be tricky to diagnose because the pain is not always constant, and it’s often moving around. Traveling pain(LINK) is felt along the pathway of a nerve. It may begin in a section of the spine, affecting the nerves and progressing to the extremities. Patients can feel a dull pain, then it can become very painful for no reason. It may feel like tingling, numbness, muscle weakness, and sensitivity to touch. This often originates in the cervical spine, neck, and lower back or lumbar region.
  2. Axial pain is sometimes referred to as mechanical pain. Unlike traveling pain, axial pain is confined to one spot or region. This pain is described in several ways and can range from sharp, shooting pain to dull or achy. It may come and go or remain constant. Axial pain can be caused by muscle strain or facet joints and disc issues. This is the most common cause of lower back pain.
  3. Radicular pain is described as searing pain caused by compression or inflammation of a spinal nerve root. In the lower back (lumbar spine), radicular pain may travel into the leg. This is often referred to as sciatica. Causes include conditions like a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or spondylolisthesis. Spinal stenosis is just one of the possible causes of nocturnal back pain or nighttime back pain. Face it, if you have back pain, you expect to get relief when you take the weight off your spine and lie down at night. The opposite is true with nocturnal back pain. No matter what position you get into, it provides no relief, and in fact, may feel worse. You may often get some relief by using a body pillow between your knees when you sleep and sleeping on a good-quality mattress.

Is the Pain Originating from Muscle or Nerve?

Night or day, if you experience back pain, how do you know if an over-the-counter remedy will work or if it’s something different requiring further pain treatment? There are ways to differentiate the discomfort you are feeling.

  • Nerve pain tends to be sharp and includes burning, tingling, and numbness.
  • In contrast, muscular pain typically causes muscles and joints to feel stiff, achy, or tender.

One of the biggest differences between nerve pain and muscle pain is the onset of chronic pain. Chronic pain is ongoing and constant. The damaged tissue that causes nerve pain often leads to chronic pain, leaving many patients with long-lasting side effects.

Managing Back Pain

There are various treatments for back pain management. However, it’s important to be properly diagnosed to receive the proper treatment regimen for your particular pain. Otherwise, you could exacerbate a condition.

Tips for Managing Back Pain

  • Maintain good posture: This applies to both sitting and standing. When sitting, ensure your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle with your feet flat on the floor. Invest in a supportive chair with good lower back support. When standing, avoid slouching and keep your shoulders back and relaxed.
  • Stretch regularly: Stretching improves flexibility in your back muscles and can help to reduce pain. Aim for daily stretches, focusing on your lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.
  • Apply heat or ice: Apply heat to tight muscles or aches and ice for inflammation or acute pain.
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers: Medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and inflammation.
  • Stay active: Exercise strengthens core muscles that support your back and helps maintain good posture. Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, or yoga are particularly beneficial.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight puts extra strain on your back. Losing weight can significantly improve back pain.
  • Remember to stay hydrated: Dehydration can also play a major role in back pain since it can cause the back muscles to spasm, just like the thigh and calf muscles. It is important to remember that the joints and discs of the spinal column require adequate fluids to function properly. The jelly-like substance that is inside spinal discs consists primarily of water. If you don’t stay hydrated, these discs will shrink and reduce the cushioning they provide between the vertebrae.

Your doctor may use X-rays, MRI, CT scans, blood tests, nerve studies, or bone scans to determine the cause of your pain. You may need prescription medication to relieve your pain. Or you may benefit from physical therapy to learn stretching and flexibility exercises to strengthen the affected area and prevent further injury.

It is always best to seek help from an affiliated, certified pain management specialist from National Spine & Pain Centers. Find a location near you to book an appointment today.

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