Your back is a complex body part made of dozens of bones, muscles and ligaments. It takes a team to find the cause of back pain so you can find relief.
by Featured Provider John Piper on Friday, July 31, 2020
Back pain affects eight out of 10 people at some point in their lives. Unfortunately, many backache sufferers don't get the help they need.
You may suffer in silence, struggle to find the right back pain specialist or cycle through pain management solutions in search of relief.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can get rid of that nagging back pain.
There’s no single, simple cause of back pain.
Your backbone is, well, the backbone of your body. Everything connects to it. Within the back itself, there are many different muscles, nerves, ligaments and bones. Because your back is central to the structure of your body and everyday movements, one issue can cause major problems. And there are many potential issues.
Back pain can be caused by things like poor posture, excessive weight or obesity, lack of exercise, bad lifting form — even smoking. Those are all factors you can control and correct. If you suffer a back injury, strain or sprain, that’s typically pretty easy to recover from too.
Sometimes back problems aren’t caused by an obvious injury or overcome with a lifestyle change. Instead, there are deeper issues with your spine.
Among the many different problems that can affect the spine, the most common are herniated disks or degenerative disk diseases, says John Piper, MD, neurosurgeon at The Iowa Clinic Spine Center. Bulging disks, pinched nerves, spinal stenosis and wear and tear in the sacroiliac joint (where your spine meets your pelvis) are other potential causes.
“Many of these conditions are not effectively treated with surgery, so patients need to have non-surgical options readily available to them,” he says. “This way, we can streamline the elevation and management of spinal care.”
It takes a team to help you find back pain relief.
Back pain is a common condition but it’s still just a symptom. Depending on the cause of your pain, there’s a different expert skilled to diagnose and treat it. All these specialists work together at the Spine Center to provide quick access, coordinated care and the best possible outcome.
- Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, also called physiatrists, focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of a wide range of disorders, especially related to the nerves, muscles, bones and brain. When you suffer from back pain, a physiatrist works with you to restore function.
- Pain management specialists are needed for both acute and chronic back pain so you can properly manage the pain to get back to your everyday activities. They help reduce pain and improve your quality of life, potentially providing complete pain relief for chronic back pain.
- Neurosurgeons and spinal surgeons step in when other treatments don’t offer relief and surgery is needed. They perform back surgeries ranging from minimally invasive procedures (such as for a herniated disc) to more extensive procedures for conditions such as misaligned vertebrae and degenerative disc disease.
- Physical therapists help you stretch and strengthen your back and recover from musculoskeletal issues that caused it. They can correct your gait, posture or form to help you move in ways that alleviate or prevent back pain.
These physicians, surgeons and healthcare providers work together to treat back pain. When a problem requires the expertise of someone else, they can quickly refer you to another specialist to get the back pain treatment you need.
“If all you have is one treatment option, you may not be able to find the treatment that helps,” Dr. Piper says. “But the Spine Center has many options and many physicians, which allows us to guide our patients in the direction that will provide the best results.”
Back pain treatment starts with an accurate diagnosis.
No one should endure back pain any longer than they have to. Unfortunately, patients with back pain are often so desperate to find relief that they'll do almost anything.
Dr. Piper acknowledges that many times he'll see a patient who's convinced that only a certain type of intervention will provide relief. “But often that's not really the best long-term solution,” he says.
“People hear about many different approaches to resolving back pain. Some are very legitimate and very good. But some have not been thoroughly or rigorously investigated, and others haven't had good results over the long term. Our goal is to deliver the treatments that will give you the best results for the longest period of time.”
Finding the right long-term treatment — and the right specialist to provide it — takes an expert diagnosis from a back pain specialist. They can identify common conditions of the spine simply by assessing your reflexes or your ability to sit, stand, walk and raise your legs.
When a specific condition is suspected, you may need additional testing to uncover the cause:
- Radiology tests like MRI, CT scans, X-Rays, myelograms and PET scans, generate images that show herniated disks or problems with the bones, muscles, tissues, tendons, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels.
- Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction tests measure the nerves' electrical impulses and responses of muscles, which can indicate compressed nerves. These are commonly caused by herniated disks or narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Discograms involve injecting a dye or contrast material into the discs of the spine, after which an X-Ray is taken to identify any tears, fissures or other disc damage.
Back pain is the leading cause of disability in people under the age of 45 — so even the young and healthy aren’t immune to its debilitating effects. If your back won’t stop aching, it’s time to see a specialist and relieve it once and for all.