Back pain is a common topic of conversation in my line of work. It is the primary health concern that brings people into the office. I usually politely decline discussing individual back pain complaints outside of the office. You see, no two "back pains" are ever the same. Discussing the nature and cause of someone's back pain without clinical analysis (and evidence) is pretty near useless. Back pain is always of very high concern as it can be an early warning sign of underlying disease processes and functional health conditions. The sooner it is attended to, the better.
A moderate percentage of back pain is self-resolving in time with some rest. This is especially true of back pain and discomfort related to physical exertion and performing new activities. This is the best case scenario as there might not be underlying damage or disease but rather the symptom is caused by a temporary adaptive process of the muscles. One phrase we hear often is "I slept on it wrong;" however, a healthy spine is generally able to resist the stress of any position a person would sleep in. There is concern when an individual is not able to get comfortable in a normal position (laying on back or side) with head and neck in a neutral posture. Sleeping on the stomach with head turned is not a position that supports spinal health and can be harmful over time.
We get increasingly concerned when back pain becomes a reoccurring issue. This is a danger zone for the individual who will put off getting the issue checked until it becomes more nagging. Anything that re-occurs has a cause that is not going away. If the cause is not going away, it is likely getting worse in time and can lead to considerable damage of the spine and nerves. We often see this in young people in early stages of spinal degeneration when the posture begins to deteriorate and puts continual (chronic) stress on nerves.
Speaking of "chronic," we use this word to describe a symptom, condition, or back pain that has been going on for more than about 3 months. Even though a chronic back pain may not always be bothering an individual, we classify it from the first time the individual ever experienced it. If the back pain did not permanently get better, the cause is still present in the body.
The opposite of chronic is "acute." This means that the symptoms have been lasting less than 3 months. Usually the individual is bending over to lift something or performing a physical task and experiences a sudden or acute onset of pain. Most of the acute back pains we see are actually injuries that resulted because of a chronic problem. So, you can have a chronic problem (spinal degeneration) that causes an acute condition (sprain/strain of back muscle or ligament) and vice versa. In general chronic conditions will start small and grow over time while an acute condition will gradually get better in time. If the structural cause of the acute situation is not addressed it will likely re-occur or turn into a chronic condition. Worse yet, by this time the nerves are always affected. The nerve is responsible for the sensation of pain but also for the function of the organs connected to the nerve which can explain why most people with back pain have other health problems related to the spinal level of the cause.
Nerve pain related to the spine can also follow a variety of patterns that are never the same in any two patients. Signs of nerve damage related to back pain often include stabbing, shooting, or burning sensations. Numbness, tingling, loss of sensation, muscle atrophy, and loss of muscular function are also related to nerve damage. Impairment of nerves at specific spinal levels often creates predictable symptoms according to the parts of the body the nerve branch supplies.
Here's an even bigger shocker. You can have a spinal problem causing a health condition and never experience back pain. That's why back pain is tricky and never a true indicator of a problem or the cause of the problem. It is only a symptom and let me remind you that the leading causes of death in the U.S. don't have early symptoms, so judging your health based on your symptoms is not a wise strategy. If you are experiencing back pain, getting it checked out soon could save you untold health, life quality, and time.
Well, that's just the tip of the iceberg. I hope you can see why back pain is not something to be taken lightly.
We are taking the following precautionary measures in our office to ensure our office is an Oasis of Health:
We are open our normal business hours
No more Patient Clip Boards or Signing-In for the next few weeks to minimize cross-contamination (ie people touching less stuff in our office)
Chiropractic Tables Are Cleaned Between Each Patient
Children's toys have been removed from family room
Bathrooms are cleaned 2x/day
Surfaces in the office that are commonly touched areas are cleaned multiple times per hour (door handles, chairs, sink knobs, etc)
Patients that are sick are requested to stay home
Patients who are well are encouraged to make their appointments... chiropractic adjustments decrease stress on your body and increase immune system function
Staff that is Sick will not be allowed in the office