Back pain is one of the most common types of pain, affecting roughly 80% of adults at some point in time. Many people reach for a bottle of over the counter pain medicine and perhaps a heating pad, which can be enough to address mild cases of back pain. For some people, however, back pain becomes chronic and excruciating, leading to missed workdays, skipped social engagements, and other major limitations to their quality of life. Fortunately, there are numerous nonsurgical alternatives for even stubborn and chronic back pain.
Causes of Back Pain
Back pain can be caused by many factors, from injuries to illnesses. Here are a few of the most common causes:
Sprain/Strain: A sprain is a damaged ligament, while a strain refers to a damaged muscle or tendon. Both sprains and strains are often caused by traumatic incidents such as a car accident or a fall, but they may also be due to poor body mechanics.
Herniated or bulging disc: A herniated or bulging disc occurs when the contents of an intervertebral disc begin to extend through the protective outer coating. This can cause pain ranging from mild to severe, depending on the level of nerve irritation or compression. Sciatica is a very common form of nerve pain.
Degenerative disc disease: In this progressive condition, the height and elasticity of the intervertebral discs change, leading to disc herniation and the growth of bone spurs.
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: The sacroiliac (SI) joints connect the spine to the pelvis. When they are unable to move normally, the supporting ligaments can become inflamed, leading to severe pain in the lower back that may radiate down the leg. The joints themselves can also become arthritis and painful, much like an arthritic hip or knee.
The exact treatment that you will receive depends upon the nature and cause of your back pain, your personal goals for treatment, your budget, and other factors. Some people need multiple treatments to unravel particularly complex cases. Some of the most common treatments include:
Epidural Steroid Injections: Used for back pain since 1952, epidural steroid injections introduce powerful anti-inflammatory corticosteroids directly into the epidural space in the spine. It typically takes a few days to achieve maximum pain relief, which can last for three to six months.
Nerve Blocks: Many different spinal conditions can compress, inflame, or irritate the nerve bundles along the back. Nerve blocks work nearly instantaneously to stop the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain. A diagnostic nerve block may wear off in a few hours, while a therapeutic nerve block can last for months.
Joint Injections: Steroids and anesthetics can be injected directly into a painful joint, such as the sacroiliac joint or the facet joints. Like epidural steroid injections, relief can last for several months.
Radiofrequency Ablation: This procedure is typically performed after a diagnostic nerve block confirms the specific nerve that is causing the pain. The affected nerve is thermally destroyed using radiofrequency waves. It can take a week or two to achieve maximum pain relief, which can last up to a year, until the nerve regenerates.
Trigger Point Injections: Trigger points are tightly bound knots in the muscles that can cause severe pain. They are extremely common in people with back pain, even if the pain originates in a structural problem. Trigger point injections typically bring faster and more complete relief than massage, as they target the actual muscle knot at its source.
Physical Therapy: The goal of pain management is to relieve your pain well enough for you to further your healing through physical therapy. When you are ready, we can refer you to a physical therapist who will customize a plan to restore your strength and range of motion while further reducing your pain.
Minimally Invasive Surgical Options
If nonsurgical treatments do not fully relieve your pain, we also offer minimally invasive surgeries that will have you back on your feet without the recovery time associated with traditional surgeries. These include:
- Spinal Cord Stimulation
- Intrathecal drug delivery
Back pain is extremely personalized, and what works for one person may not work for the next. With so many treatment options, though, we are confident that we can reduce or eliminate your pain and get you back to living your life, all without major back surgery!
For long-lasting relief from chronic pain, contact the American Pain Institute today at 603-766-8500 to schedule your first appointment. We look forward to helping you control your pain and move on with your life!