Most people will experience back pain at some point in their lives — but what type of back pain is it?
Back pain is typically caused by the accumulation of repetitive movements or sitting over many years. Most of the time it’s due to a sore joint, disc or ligament in your back, but it’s rarely serious — even if it’s painful enough to feel that way. The good news is that it’s quite treatable, no matter your type of back pain.
The first step is to figure out which type of back pain you suffer from.
The most common type is felt predominantly in your back (though it may also radiate down your leg) and it worsens when you bend forward. A doctor, physiotherapist or kinesiologist can show you how to relieve this pain with exercises (for instance, an upper body push-up resembling the cobra pose in yoga), or with tools like a lumbar support cushion for sitting or a foot stool to use when standing. These moves and tools make you arch backward, which will reduce pain. A physiotherapist or kinesiologist can also teach exercises that help you maintain an overall better posture to reduce the frequency and intensity of future attacks. Speaking of better posture, make sure you try our weekly back-strengthening workout.
The next most common type of back pain occurs when you arch backward (like when painting a ceiling). Many people can manage this pain on their own, often just by slouching forward, but exercises from a professional can also help.
If your pain is leg dominant, meaning it’s worse in the leg, it’s most likely to be the result of irritation, caused by a ruptured disc, to the root of a nerve that then travels down your spine into your leg. This pain, which is much rarer, is known as sciatica, and it is constant, not intermittent. In 80 percent of cases, it will subside in time. If it doesn’t, a surgeon can remove the irritating pieces of disc.
The final type is intermittent leg-dominant pain that’s brought on by walking. It occurs because the boney lumps inside the spinal canal cut off blood supply to the nerve. It’s commonly seen in elderly people who can’t walk for long without resting. If this pain is disabling, a surgeon can remove bone to prevent the nerve from being pinched.
No matter the cause, beware of turning to strong painkillers.
The single most common reason for prescription addiction to opioids is back pain, yet there’s no need for opioids in treating back-dominant pain. If your pain is too much for you to handle, talk to your doctor about the safest way to manage it. (Check out how to banish back pain the natural way, thanks to these home remedies.)
Dr. Hamilton Hall is an orthopedic surgeon and medical director of CBI Health Group.
Is your back pain too much to handle? Make sure you see an acupuncturist.