Back pain can occur for many different reasons, ranging from relatively simple causes like poor posture or bending over cellphones and other electronic devices for long periods of time, to injury and tissue damage stemming from traumatic accidents or diseases like osteoarthritis or spinal stenosis or repetitive activities like bending and lifting. Herniated discs are a common cause of back pain that often causes painful symptoms in other areas of the body as well. Because back pain can be caused by many factors, a thorough evaluation, and diagnostic imaging can play critical roles in ensuring the most appropriate treatment is provided.
Spinal stenosis is a chronic condition that causes the spinal canal – the channel that transports nerves from the brain through the spine – to become narrow over time, usually as a result of arthritis. As the canal narrows, the nerves can become compressed, resulting in local and widespread pain and symptoms like tingling, numbness and muscle weakness. Treatment usually involves oral and injected medications combined with physical therapy. Nerve block injections can also help by preventing pain sensations from traveling to the brain. Surgery may be required in advanced cases that don’t respond to more conservative approaches.
The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, with two branches exiting the lower spine and traveling through each leg. Sciatica occurs when the nerve becomes compressed or impinged where it exits the spine, usually as a result of a herniated or “slipped” disc that presses on the nerve. People with sciatica have symptoms like low back pain and radiating pain, numbness, and weakness in the affected leg and buttock. One or both legs can be affected. Treatment usually consists of rest, physical therapy, and oral or injected medications to reduce pain and inflammation and to allow the disc to resume its normal position. Nerve blocks and spinal cord stimulation may also help. In a few cases, surgery may be needed to address severe nerve compression or herniation that won’t resolve on its own.