Not all back pain is created equal. Some spinal aches and pains come on suddenly and go away fairly quickly, while other symptoms develop slowly and sometimes stick around long enough to seriously affect daily life. There are also instances when back pain can produce nerve-based discomfort that exists without a clear reason. By understanding the three common forms of back pain discussed below, you can get a better idea of how to effectively manage the spine-related symptoms you’re experiencing.
Acute back pain comes on suddenly and can last anywhere from a few days to a couple of months. However, it generally goes away within 3 to 6 months. This is the kind of pain you might experience after overdoing it at the gym, reaching or stretching too far, or lifting something the wrong way. Whether or not acute spine pain lingers longer than expected can be determined by several factors, some of which include:
• How much exercise you normally get and your overall health
• Dietary habits, since certain foods can trigger inflammation and turn a minor irritation into ongoing pain
• Your posture and general history with back pain
• Your emotional state and how you perceive your spine-related pain
Acute pain usually goes away once tissues heal, which is usually what happens if back pain is due to strained spine-supporting muscles. However, if the pain continues beyond the time it normally takes tissues to heal, you may have chronic back pain, which is broadly defined as pain lasting beyond 3 to 6 months. Chronic spine pain can be further broken down into two more specific categories:
• Chronic back pain with a clear reason — This is the type of chronic pain that may be associated with age-related disc wear (degenerative disc disease), vertebral slippage (spondylolisthesis), or abnormalities such as spinal stenosis. Pain of this nature has an identifiable structural cause, which means it’s often manageable or correctable with surgery.
• Chronic back pain without a source — Also referred to as chronic benign pain, this is the type of ongoing discomfort that continues even after healing has occurred. Examples of pain of this nature include lingering pain after spine surgery (failed back surgery syndrome) and pain that has traveled into the nervous system (see more on this below).
Neuropathic pain refers to nerve-based pain. Often considered a type of chronic pain, neuropathic pain is believed to be linked to damage to the sensory or motor nerves that make up the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms experienced usually include numbness, tingling sensations, general weakness, and/or severe or sharp (“stabbing”) pain.
If the source of this type of pain can be identified, correcting it may allow affected nerves to gradually heal. Opioid pain meds and anti-inflammatory drugs generally aren’t effective for neuropathic pain. While some nerve pain responds well to surgical treatment such as a lumbar foraminotomy, Los Angeles patients may be able to manage this type of discomfort with:
• Anticonvulsants, antidepressants, and similar medications normally used to treat epilepsy or depression
• Nerve block injections
• Pain pumps or spinal cord stimulation
Triggered by compression of a specific nerve, radiculopathy is another type of nerve-based pain. A good example of this type of nerve pain is sciatica, which often produces symptoms that extend downward if the sciatic nerve that starts in the lower back is “pinched” or irritated.
Just because you have one type of back pain doesn’t mean it might not change over time. For instance, acute spine-related discomfort sometimes turns into chronic pain. It’s also possible for both acute and chronic back pain to affect specific nerves or extend further into the nervous system, which is why it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis from your Los Angeles spine surgeon as soon as you experience back pain that doesn’t go away after a few days of rest and other self-care attempts.
If you’re experiencing severe or lingering back pain, it’s important to determine the cause and start treatment right away. The spinal health specialists at The Spine Institute have decades of experience with every aspect of back pain and how to alleviate it. Call one of our helpful representatives today at 310-828-7757 to schedule an appointment.