Back pain is the body’s natural response to injury or degenerative conditions of the spine. Usually, it’s resolved by time and non-surgical treatment, but it’s also important to know which conditions warrant a call to the doctor.
The back is one of our most important anatomic structures, providing support and facilitating mobility and balance for the entire body, as well as protecting the spinal cord. Because of the loads placed on it each and every day, it’s no surprise this well-designed structure, consisting of bones (vertebrae), discs, muscles, tendons, ligaments and nerves, is particularly susceptible to injury and other conditions that may have you reaching for the heating pad – or your doctor’s phone number.
When you feel pain, it’s your body’s natural reaction to signals transmitted from the pain source, which travel through the nerves in the spinal cord and up to the brain, where they are perceived as pain.
The lumbar spine is made up of 5 motion segments. Each motion segment consists of 2 vertebral bodies separated by a lumbar disc, and a pair of lumbar facet joints.
The five vertebrae of the lumbar spine (L1-L5), located directly below the thoracic spine (mid-back) and are directly above the sacrum (tail bone), are separated by shock-absorbing intervertebral discs and supported by muscles and ligaments. These discs are very important for the normal mobility and function of your back.
Each disc is made up of two parts:
- The nucleus pulposus – the soft, gel-like center of the disc.
- The annulus fibrosis – the strong, fibrous outer ring that surrounds and supports the nucleus pulposus.
Posteriorly or behind the vertebral bodies and lumbar discs are a set of lumbar facet joints that function as true moveable joints. The facet joints are composed of two cartilage surfaces opposing each other surrounded by a strong ligamentous joint capsule. The facet joints are critical for lumbar motion.
What’s causing my back pain?
Common causes of Back pain include:
- Facet joint injury
- Lumbar disc herniation
- Lumbar radiculopathy
- Cauda equina
- Lumbar disc annular tear
- Lumbar stenosis
- Lumbar foraminal stenosis
- Muscle spasm
- Lumbar degenerative disc disease
- Lumbar spondylosis
- Lumbar spondylolisthesis
- Lumbar spondylolysis
- Sacroiliac joint injury
- Lumbar trauma
- Lumbar fracture
- Degenerative scoliosis
- Ankyloses spondylitis
- Unruptured aneurysm
When should I see my doctor?
- Are experiencing back pain as a result of a physical trauma involving your spine, such as a fall or car accident?
- Are experiencing numbness in, or having difficulty moving, your extremities
- Experience bladder control loss or impairment
- In instances of acute back pain, do not experience any improvement after 72 hours of self-treatment at home
- Have experienced chronic back pain for more than 6 weeks
If you are experiencing back pain, talk to your doctor about identifying the cause of your back pain. Proper diagnosis by your doctor will ensure the correct treatment plan.
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