Why Are Back Injuries So Common and When To See a Doctor?

Back injuries are so common that the majority of people will suffer from one at some point (or multiple points) in their life. This is due to a number of reasons that we will explore in this article. Luckily, the number of back injury treatment options out there today are almost as numerous.

Back Injuries

The Back’s structure

One of the reasons that back injuries are so prevalent is that the back is comprised of an extraordinarily complex set of structures that all work together to support our body. The spine alone is comprised of 33 individual bones, called the vertebrae, which are attached by various muscles, ligaments, and discs. Further complicating matters, the spine houses the spinal cord, which is the hub for the central nervous system and attached to nerves throughout the body. A back injury can occur when damage is done to any one of the numerous components of the back.

Each component of the back represents some of the most functionally important elements of your anatomy and are in use when you undergo a large variety of movements or activities — even sitting, standing or walking.

Identifying a back injury

The first step to effective back injury treatment is identifying the source of back pain. If you are unsure of the nature of your back injury, working with a qualified medical professional can be helpful in determining whether you are dealing with a muscle injury, nerve damage, a problem with the nerves or another back injury. The overlap between many of the different back structures makes it almost impossible for an individual to self-diagnose a given back injury. Furthermore, the severity of pain for any given back injury varies dramatically between individuals.

Back injury treatment

Broadly speaking, back injury treatment options can be broken into broad categories: exercise and physical therapy, pain medications, outpatient procedures (like injections) or surgical back injury treatments. Many who suffer from a back injury are understandably eager to learn about treatments they can undertake at home.

We have previously written about exercises that can be done at home that may be helpful in confronting pain associated with back injuries. Focusing on movements that stretch your spine and strengthen the back is a good strategy for many back injuries. Yoga and Pilates are especially popular among people who want to try exercise at home to treat or prevent back injuries. There are numerous online videos that can walk you through routines to get started. However, if you find that your exercise regimen worsens back pain, do not push yourself — you may aggravate the injury. Instead, give yourself some time to heal before exerting yourself and try another of these back injury treatments instead.

If you do not already, try sleeping on your back with pillows under your knees. This position is optimal for your spine and can drastically help with certain types of back injuries. Alternatively, sleeping on your side is the next-best option for sleeping positions. Try to alternate which side you sleep on. Sleeping on your side may not be a good strategy for lessening back pain, but it is favorable to sleeping on your stomach.

Many people apply heat or cold as an at-home back injury treatment. While research does not show that cold is effective at treating a back pain directly, it can be helpful in reducing any swelling or inflammation. There is some evidence that heat is effective in reducing pain associated with back injury, and moist heat is more favorable than dry. Consider a hot bath — with Epsom salts — to relax back muscles.

When to See a Doctor

At some point, it is necessary to seek professional help to treat back injuries. If you experience numbness or tingling, you will want to see a doctor right away. This is indicative of nerve damage and cannot be effectively treated without professional intervention.

Pain that does not subside after a period of six weeks should definitely be looked into by a doctor. This is what is termed “chronic” pain and a doctor will evaluate all of your symptoms to come up with an accurate diagnosis of your back injury to create an effective treatment plan.

If your back pain results in loss of bladder or bowel control, you have sustained a direct injury to your spine (blow, fall, etc.), if your back pain is accompanied by a sustained fever or you have loss of mobility in any part of your body, this constitutes a medical emergency and you should receive medical attention immediately.

If you are not suffering from a medical emergency associated with your back pain and your at-home attempts for back injury treatment are not working either, schedule an appointment with a physician who specializes in back injuries. A number of treatment options can be discussed once they’ve had a chance to review your medical history and your current condition. At the Pain Institute of Southern Arizona (PISA) we are dedicated to the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of pain and we are fully equipped to diagnose and manage the treatment of your back injuries.