Neck and Back Pain will affect 80 to 90 percent of people in the United States at some time during their lives. Back pain is the second most common reason people visit their family doctors (just after upper respiratory infections). On any given day, almost two percent of the entire United States work force is disabled by back pain. It also is the direct cause of enormous health care expenses from $20 billion to $30 billion annually.
What is acute back pain?
Acute back pain refers to a brief episode of pain that comes on suddenly. Most people recover from acute back pain within two weeks with minimal treatment. Using over-the-counter pain relievers - such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen - and getting back to normal activities as the pain permits are simple and effective treatments for most people with acute back pain.
What is chronic, persistent back pain?
Most back pain is relieved within a few days to a couple of weeks with simple treatment. When back pain persists beyond two to four weeks - which is chronic, persistent back pain - further medical evaluation is needed. This evaluation focuses on a careful assessment of the patient's medical history and a thorough physical examination to identify, if possible, a precise cause of the pain.
What are the typical causes of back pain?
Back strain is the leading cause of back pain in the United States. Other causes of back pain include: disc herniation, osteoarthritis/spinal stenosis, ankylosing spondylitis, spondylolisthesis, infection, cancer, fracture, trauma, and other non-spinal causes.
How is back pain treated?
Most back pain can be successfully treated with conservative (non-surgical) measures.
When back pain is chronic, persistent and disabling, a comprehensive treatment approach addressing all aspects of the problem, including psychological as well as physical, offers the best hope for rehabilitation and recovery.
Active, exercise-oriented physical therapy is the cornerstone of treatment for people with chronic back pain. Physical therapy is the science of blending physiology with exercises and applying these principles to the body when an injury is sustained. Physical therapy for back and neck conditions focuses on the structures that support the spine and its joints including muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Exercise programs should be individualized by a physical therapist. Typically, the exercise program can be performed at home without special equipment. Follow-up visits with the therapist are necessary to monitor progress and "fine tune" the program.
Portions of this text have been adapted from content available at the Cleveland Clinic website.