Acute back pain – an overview

By avn
4:42 am Posted May 2, 2016
In Back Pain

Acute back pain is pain that lasts for five weeks or less. This type of pain may occur due to sudden injury to the muscles and ligaments that support the back.

Symptoms of acute back pain

A variety of symptoms can be experienced during an attack of back pain. The pain could be aching, sharp or dull, burning, well-defined or vague, or stabbing in nature. The pain can also radiate to other parts of the body like buttocks and hip/thigh area.

It should be noted, however, that it is very essential to consult the doctor in case of severe back pain after an injury. Other symptoms which require immediate attention are loss of bowel or bladder control, leg weakness, fever, and pain when coughing or urinating. Please consult your doctor if you have these symptoms along with back pain.

Causes of acute back pain:

It is very difficult to identify the actual source of acute back pain. There are a lot of reasons for acute back pain and there are numerous pain producers including muscles, ligaments, joints, etc. The various causes for acute back pain include,

  • Muscle strain or tear to the muscles or ligaments supporting the back.
  • Disc bulge or rupture, wherein the bulging or ruptured disc presses on the sciatic nerve. This can lead to pain radiating to the buttock down one leg. This condition is called sciatica.
  • Injury to the spinal cord.
  • Muscle Spasm – tightness of the muscles supporting the spine. This can happen due to posture or stress.
  • Spinal Stenosis
  • Curvature of the spine

Examination and tests

A physical examination will enable the physician to determine the cause of the back pain and whether it is likely to get better with simple measures such as physical therapy, ice, exercises, mild pain killers, etc. Most often, back pain gets better with these measures. The acute pain generally lasts for five weeks or less. Hence, the physician may not perform any tests unless he suspects any serious reasons.

The tests that the doctor might order if he suspects a serious problem are x-ray, CT, or MRI of the back.

Treatment of back pain

    • Rest

Limited rest for the first few days will help in relieving the symptoms and reduce swelling in the area of pain.

    • Ice and heat packs

During about the first 48 hours of pain, it is best to apply ice pack for up to 20 minutes several times a day. This blocks pain signals and helps reduce inflammation. After the 48 hours of pain, heat pack can be applied. This will stimulate blood flow and reduce painful spasms.

    • Medications
      • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help in relieving pain and also reduce the inflammation, but it is very important to take it only if prescribed by the physician.
      • Opioids/Narcotics are strong pain relievers with sedative properties. These enable you to sleep well even when having pain.
    • Physical therapy

Traction, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, etc. help in providing pain relief.

    • Lifestyle changes

Switch to the posture that gives least stress to your back and try and maintain it even when sitting or standing.

  • Complementary and alternative medicines
    Several Ayurvedic and Panchakarma therapies whendone under the supervision of a trained Ayurvedic physician help immensely with pain relief. They include the various massages done with Herbal powders (Podikkizhi), herbal leaves(Ilakkaizhi), Oil (kativasthi , Pizhichil), Rice boiled in medicated milk(Nhavarakkizhi) and administration of medicated enema (Ksheeravasthi and Kashaya Vasthi). These therapies address the underlying condition rather than the symptom, thereby helping the body heal holistically with no side effects. Other therapies like Yoga and acupuncture have also been found to aid pain relief.

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