Back pain: What causes it? What can you do about it?

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When you stand up, does your hand automatically go to your lower back as you give a little groan? Is bending over and standing back up a phased operation, where your legs look like the hour hands of a clock, while the rest of your body ticks slowly up to high noon?

Because we use our backs for just about every movement we make, it’s not uncommon to feel a tweak every once in a while, especially as we age. In fact, back pain can start as young as age 30 or 40.

Causes of back pain

A lot of the causes for back pain depend on your lifestyle. If you’re overweight, if you smoke or if you have a job that requires lifting and twisting, you’re at a higher risk. Also, if you’re out of shape, have a family history of back issues or have another condition that can contribute to back pain, you might also be at risk.

Depending on the reason for your pain, you could experience a dull ache that gradually builds in intensity, or you could feel a sharp, stab in your back. Straining or pulling muscles, disk breakdown or rupture, or spasms can make walking, laying down and sitting a painful chore.

Back pain can also stem from:

  • scoliosis
  • spondylolisthesis
  • arthritis
  • spinal stenosis
  • pregnancy
  • kidney stones
  • infections
  • endometriosis
  • fibromyalgia

Preventing back pain

The good news is, you don’t have to sit and wait for back pain to strike. Maintaining good health by exercising and eating right can help keep excess weight off and reduce your risk for back pain. Be sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D to build strong bones.

Also, if you smoke, try to quit. Medically, smokers take longer to heal from an injury due to your body not being able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back. You can also injure your back if you have smoker’s cough.

Treating back pain

While there are many types of back pain, there are seemingly just as many treatments. For temporary pain, over-the-counter pain relievers can help, so can heat and cold packs. You might also want to talk to your doctor or pharmacist about the different kinds of creams you can rub on to the skin in the painful area to bring some relief.

If you have chronic pain diagnosed by a physician, you should talk to your doctor about other options such as physical therapy, steroid injections, complementary integrative medicine or even surgery.

There are some symptoms you just can’t ignore. If you have any of these symptoms with your back pain, get in to see your doctor right away:

  • numbness or tingling
  • severe pain that does not improve with rest
  • pain after a fall or an injury
  • pain plus any of these problems:
  • trouble urinating
  • weakness
  • numbness in your legs
  • fever
  • weight loss when not on a diet

At Beaumont, we're looking for new ways to help patients get back to normal. Including being the first to pioneer a minimally invasive nerve-ablation procedure that allows us to turn back pain off like a light. Our comprehensive approach to pain includes the expertise of both orthopedic spine surgeons and neurosurgical spine surgeons who are skilled in the latest treatments.

Many Beaumont spine surgeons are leaders in the field, conducting innovative research and clinical trials to expand the boundaries of spine surgery.


Information provided by Jeffrey Fischgrund, M.D., Beaumont orthopedic surgeon.

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