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Spine & Back Pain

Why Does My Back Hurt?

Nearly everyone will suffer periodic episodes of back pain throughout their life. These episodes can range from moderate irritation to severe pain or soreness that makes it difficult to walk, bend, sit, or sleep.

Our specialist team will begin by diagnosing the cause of your pain, and reviewing treatment options with you so that you can get back to your regular activities.

Symptoms of Back Problems

People with back pain may suffer from one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Dull, irritating ache throughout the back or in one area, such as the lower back (lumbar region)
  • Severe, shooting pains in the spine
  • Reduced range of motion and flexibility
  • Burning sensation that extends down one or both legs
  • Spinal deformity
  • Inability to stand fully upright, or bend the spine past a certain point

Conditions That Cause Back Pain

Typical causes of lower back pain, middle back pain, and upper back pain include mechanical problems resulting from injuries, overuse or congenital conditions, arthritic conditions, common diseases, and lifestyle factors.

Mechanical Back Problems

Typical back problems caused by injuries, normal wear and tear, poor posture, and congenital (present at birth) conditions include:

Sometimes referred to as a “bulging disc,” or a “ruptured disc,” a herniated disc occurs when a spinal disc fragment is pushed through a tear in the exterior casing of the annulus fibrosus. Since a portion of the disc “slips” out of place, this condition is also commonly known as a “slipped disc.” Spinal disc herniation usually occurs due to the degeneration of the disc, which can result from an injury, or normal wear and tear. Depending on the severity, a herniated disc may result in discomfort or pain, and may require medication, physical therapy, or surgery. Many herniated discs are spontaneously reabsorbed as part of the body’s natural healing properties.

Pinched nerves in the back usually occur due to a herniated disc in the lower spine that places pressure on a spinal nerve. This results in pain, discomfort, or a numbness and tingling in the affected area, down one or both legs. This condition is commonly referred to as sciatica when the pain radiates below the knee.

Congenital scoliosis, commonly referred to as “curvature of the spine,” is a condition that is present at birth. Symptoms may also be present at birth, or may not appear until adolescence. Scoliosis can also appear in adults, usually resulting from a separate spinal condition that impacts the vertebrae. Scoliosis is not typically painful, unless degenerative changes develop between the vertebra.

Sometimes referred to as “Scheuermann’s disease,” kyphosis is a spinal disorder where an abnormally curved spine produces a forward rounding of the upper back. This back condition is common during adolescence, or may be a symptom of osteoporosis.

A common injury in sports that stress the bones in the lower back, spondylolisthesis is a condition where a vertebra slips forward, usually at the base of the spine. Depending on the severity, the slipped vertebra may impinge on the nerves, resulting in severe lower back pain, leg pain, or numbness.

Often referred to as a “broken back,” or “fractured vertebra,” spinal fractures result in severe pain and usually prevent sufferers from bearing weight. Due to the complexity of the spine, spinal fractures may cause the bones to pinch and damage nerves or the spinal cord itself. Spinal fractures should be treated immediately at the nearest emergency room.

Often referred to as “pulled muscles,” muscle sprains and strains are common sources of lower back pain. A sprain involves overstretching or tearing of the ligaments, while a strain involves overstretching or tearing of tendons or muscles.

Tendon and ligament tears are also common sources of lower back pain, and may be related to strains. A lumbar strain, for example, results from a stretched or torn ligament.

Additionally, back injuries that don’t heal properly may lead to arthritic conditions and additional back problems. Always see a medical professional after experiencing an injury to minimize lifelong damage to the spine, as well as the surrounding joints and muscles.

Common Back Diseases & Conditions

Common diseases and conditions that cause back pain include:

Sciatica refers to the discomfort and pain that results when the sciatic nerve is injured or placed under pressure. The symptoms of sciatica usually affect a single side of the body, and may be present in the buttocks, hip, or lower leg.

Sometimes referred to as “narrowing of the spine,” spinal stenosis is a common spine condition that places pressure on the spinal cord or the spinal nerves. Common causes include normal wear and tear, and this pinching of the nerves or spinal cord produces numbness, discomfort, or pain in the lower back and pain or a feeling of heaviness in the legs.

This disorder is characterized by widespread muscle pain in areas such as the lower back, buttocks, elbows, knees, neck, and shoulders.

An indirect cause of back pain, osteoporosis can weaken the vertebrae to the point where the spine can be injured from normal wear and tear, or slight injuries. Osteoporosis results in a higher risk of spine fracture.

Often referred to as “PDB,” or “osteitis deformans,” Paget’s disease of bone is a disease that can impact the skull, spine, pelvis, and legs. This disease interferes with the recycling process for bone tissue, which can cause the affected bones to become deformed and weak.

Degenerative disc disease is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae thin due to normal wear and tear, which can stiffen movements and result in pain or weakness, or numbness if a nerve is pinched.

Both cancerous and non-cancerous tumors can form lumps in or around the spinal vertebrae. Spinal tumors are classified by the area that they impact, and include cervical, sacrum, lumbar, and thoracic. Tumors may or may not be painful. All tumors require prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Arthritic Back Conditions

The most common arthritic conditions that cause back pain include:

Sometimes referred to as “Bechterew’s disease,” ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men, usually appears in early adulthood, and primarily affects the spinal joints. The spinal joints become inflamed, which can lead to chronic pain and discomfort.

Osteoarthritis results from normal wear and tear, overuse, and aging. In this condition, the protective cartilage between the vertebrae deteriorate, causing the spinal bones to rub against each other, which leads to pain, stiffness, and inflexibility.

Commonly referred to as “R.A.,” this chronic autoimmune disorder is characterized by inflammation and damage to the cartilage in the vertebrae. This damage leads to swelling, stiffness, bone erosion, and pain, which can be disabling.

Learn more about common back injuries and conditions.

Back Pain Diagnosis

Our orthopedic specialists may begin by ordering specific imaging tests for your back, including:  

  • X-rays
  • MRIs
  • Bone scans
  • CT scans

They will also review your medical history, ask about your daily activities, and perform a detailed examination of your spine and the surrounding muscles, tendons, and joints to diagnose the cause of your pain, and determine which treatment plan will work best for you. 

Non-surgical Treatments

Depending on your diagnosis, our orthopedic specialists usually begin with non-operative treatment options that don’t require surgery. Non-surgical treatment options include:

  • Oral anti-inflammatory medication
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • Physical therapy
  • Spinal bracing
  • Spinal injection therapy
  • Osteopathic therapy, in which a specialist manipulates your muscles and joints using stretching, gentle pressure and/or resistance to improve your structure and function

Surgical Treatments

Surgical treatment options include:

  • Fracture fixation
  • Spinal fusion
  • Tumor removal
  • Lumbar discectomy
  • Kyphoplasty
  • Laminectomy
  • Lumbar discectomy
  • Thoracic vertebral body replacement
  • Microdiscectomy / microdecompression

Schedule an Appointment to Relieve Your Back Pain

If you’re experiencing back pain, contact the orthopedic team at Bassett Healthcare Network by calling (607) 547-3652. Our spinal specialists will diagnose the cause of your pain and review treatment plans based on your preference and personal needs.

Bassett Healthcare Network’s Spine Care Institute offers noninvasive and minimally invasive back pain treatments to relieve all types of back pain throughout Central New York, including Milford, Herkimer, Oneonta, Cooperstown, and Cobleskill.