Many people use the term “back pain” to refer to any type of spine-related ache or pain. However, the intensity and nature of the discomfort can vary greatly from one person to another. The potential sources of back pain can be just as diverse, which is why it’s important to be as descriptive as possible when you’re being examined and diagnosed. Below you’ll find some of the more common ways to classify the different types of back pain you may experience.
This type of back pain is limited to one area of the spine. Lower back pain (LBP) that doesn’t radiate anywhere else would be considered axial pain. Strained spine-supporting muscles, facet (spinal) joint issues, and a spinal disc tear that doesn’t result in inner disc material pushing outward (annular tear) are among the possible sources of mechanical back pain. Axial pain is sometimes described as:
• Sharp or dull pain felt in the affected area
• Localized pain that’s intermittent (comes and goes)
• Constant discomfort
• Throbbing back pain
This type of back pain is usually more dull and achy in nature. It also tends to move around without having a regular fixed location. An example of this is the type of discomfort that’s often experienced due to age-related spinal disc wear (degenerative disc disease), which may eventually need to be treated with artificial disc replacement surgery. Santa Monica
patients may feel referred pain in the hips, buttocks, or thighs if the source is a problem in the lower back. However, an issue with the cervical spine may produce pain referred to the shoulders, upper back, or upper arms.
Radicular pain is similar to referred pain, except it follows the path of the nerve that’s affected. This is the type of back pain sometimes described as a “pins and needles” or “electric shock” sensation. You may also notice searing or intense pain along the nerve’s pathway.
A common example of radicular pain is what you might notice if the sciatic nerve, located in your lower back, is irritated or compressed (sciatica). The resulting discomfort may be felt in other places where the nerve travels. In this case, that could be the thighs or buttocks or into one leg.
If this type of pain is accompanied by numbness or general weakness in nearby areas, it’s called radiculopathy. Possible sources of radicular/radiculopathic back pain related to spinal nerve root compression include:
• Herniated discs
• Scar tissue around spinal nerves (peridural fibrosis)
• Reduced space within the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)
• Vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis)
• Narrowed openings around spinal bones (foraminal stenosis)
A small percentage of patients end up having no clear anatomical reason for their back pain. If this applies to your situation, you may be advised to consider lifestyle adjustments, such as getting more exercise, eating healthier foods, watching your posture, and improving your sleep habits. You may also be advised to explore possible psychological factors, including anxiety, stress, and depression.
No matter what type of back pain you’re experiencing, it’s a good idea to see your doctor or a Santa Monica spine surgeon if you have spine-related discomfort that’s getting progressively worse or doesn’t go away after a few weeks. Knowing the actual source of your back pain is the most effective way to determine the proper method of treatment, so reach out to the pioneering spinal specialists at The Spine Institute. We use the most innovative methods to diagnose and treat all types of back pain. Call one of our friendly representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.