If you’ve been feeling the same type of spine-related discomfort for three to six months or more, then you’re among the 30 million Americans with chronic back pain. Sudden back pain, like what might occur after you overdo it at the gym or roughhouse with your kids in the backyard, often has a clear cause. However, this isn’t always the case with chronic pain. In fact, figuring out all of the contributing factors to ongoing back pain is sometimes akin to solving a mystery with one clue at a time. As you begin your search for answers, here are four possible causes of chronic back pain that may not be obvious.
1. Food Sensitivity
With food allergies, there is an immediate immune system response following ingestion. When specific ingredients in food are affecting your soft tissues or joints, the resulting discomfort is usually more progressive in nature. For instance, foods with gluten, a storage protein found in many wheat and grain products, may trigger an inflammatory reaction that affects spinal joints, vertebrae, or nerves. It’s usually a trial and error process when trying to pinpoint a specific food sensitivity.
2. Mental/Emotional Factors
There’s plenty of research showing a clear link between depression and other emotional and mental issues and chronic pain. Even having a generally negative outlook can affect how you perceive your pain. Being constantly stressed or anxious about other issues in your life can also contribute to muscle stiffness that affects your spine.
One Canadian study specifically links the so-called “stress hormone” cortisol to chronic pain. The same study found a connection between interpretation of pain and the size of the part of the brain that forms, stores, and organizes memory information (hippocampus). Some people with chronic back pain who have mental or emotional issues affecting their pain perception may benefit from:
• Stress management techniques
• Mindful meditation
• Deep breathing exercises
3. Nutritional Deficiencies
Chronic back pain is sometimes more noticeable because the diet is lacking certain essential nutrients. For example, not getting enough calcium and vitamin D can weaken spinal bones already affected by osteoarthritis (OA) of the spine. If your diet is high in sodium and you’re not getting enough “spine-friendly” nutrients, you may experience more tissue inflammation that can accelerate joint wear and contribute to muscle tension, all things that can end up affecting your spine and its nearby nerves. Increase your odds of getting more of the nutrients that are good for your spine with a diet that includes:
• A mix of green, leafy vegetables and bright-colored fruits
• Beans, lentils, fish, nuts, soy products, and other lean proteins
• Low-fat dairy products
4. Over-the-Counter/Prescription Painkillers
Even if you’re not specifically taking painkillers for your chronic back pain, you may be using over-the-counter or prescription pain meds for other health issues. It’s also common to turn to over-the-counter pain pills for minor aches and pains. While it’s usually fine to safely use painkillers on a short-term or occasional basis, constant reliance on “immediate release” pain medication may make you more sensitive to various sensations associated with your daily movements. There’s also the risk of building up a tolerance over time or developing dependency issues. If you’re finding yourself relying too much on pain pills, talk to your Los Angeles spine surgeon about options such as:
• Therapeutic exercises tailored to your abilities
• Various forms of massage therapy
• Injections directly in the affected area
• TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and similar techniques
• Alternative pain management options like chiropractic manipulations
One or more of these “hidden” causes of chronic back pain may be affecting your daily life, or at least contributing to your symptoms. The only way to know for sure is to be honest with your doctor about your experiences with lasting spine pain so all possible contributing factors can be considered. Some patients find it helpful to keep a journal to track specific instances of back pain to make it easier to find possible connections that would otherwise be overlooked.
There are many causes, hidden and prevalent, of chronic back pain. If the pain is consistent, get in touch with The Spine Institute. Dr. Hyun Bae and his team of professional surgeons can help you determine if you require a minimally invasive procedure like spinal fusion surgery. Los Angeles residents can rely on the team at The Spine Institute to find effective relief for their pain. To schedule an appointment, give us a call at 310-828-7757 today.