Back pain is extremely common. Nearly everyone has suffered some degree of back pain, whether it’s minor soreness from overexerting yourself while performing yard work or exercise or a more serious injury. There are a number of different ways to develop back pain, with injuries to back muscles and an injury or condition affect spinal anatomy being the most common.
Although injured back muscles can be a source of chronic symptoms and should be taken seriously, they often heal more easily compared to issues affecting the spine. No matter what the cause is, seeking a professional diagnosis from a qualified health professional is the best way to ensure a positive outcome. To help you engage with your treatment on an active level, we’re providing the following information to help you learn about the causes of injuries to the back muscles and spine conditions. Additionally, it is also important to learn about the typical steps that lead to a diagnosis and what the most common treatment options are.
The USA Spine Care team is here to help. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about your options for relief, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Overview of your back muscles
By helping to support and stabilize the spine while allowing for basic movement, the back muscles are critical to a healthy body. Your back muscles consist of three groups:
- Intrinsic back muscles — These are the back muscles that connect to the spine. The three deep layers of back muscles include the semispinalis, multifidus and rotatores that are essential for balance, stability and posture in the back.
- Superficial back muscles — These help with shoulder shoulder and neck movements and are near the cervical vertebrae in the upper spine.
- Intermediate back muscles — These back muscles help with the movement of the thoracic or middle spine.
The intrinsic back muscles are the most commonly associated with the term back muscles as they travel all the up and down the spine, including in the lower, or lumbar, region. Due to the amount of stress these muscles withstand on a daily basis, back muscles are highly injury prone, often becoming strained or torn.
Overview of spinal anatomy
The spinal column consists of interconnected tubular bone segments called vertebrae. The vertebrae protect the spinal cord as it travels from the brain to the rest of the body, branching out through small openings called foramina. The vertebrae are connected by facet joints and cushioned by flexible discs made of cartilage that allow the spine to bend and flex.
As mentioned above, the spine is divided into three regions:
- Cervical vertebrae — Consisting of the first seven vertebrae in the neck, labeled C1 to C7
- Thoracic vertebrae — Consisting of the next 12 vertebrae in the middle back, labeled T1 to T12
- Lumbar vertebrae — Consisting of the bottom five vertebrae in the lower back, labeled L1 to L5. Some people are born with a sixth lumbar vertebra, but it is not common.
Issues affecting the spine can be due to natural age-related degeneration or injury, in addition to certain diseases and neurological conditions. Degenerative conditions are the most common and include arthritis, bulging discs and herniated discs. These conditions typically cause symptoms by interfering with the nerve tissue that is so tightly packed in the spinal column.
Diagnosing and treating back pain
For patients with lower back pain or neck pain, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether it is due to a strain or other injury to the back muscles or if it is due to a spine condition such as a herniated disc or arthritis. In fact, it can be possible for both problems to be present at the same time.
In a healthy patient, muscle strains can improve on their own in a short period of time with rest and basic treatments such as an ice pack and over-the-counter medication to relieve symptoms. A telltale sign of a spine condition is pain that is persistent, lasting longer than a few days to a week. Another is the presence of nerve-related symptoms such as tingling, numbness and pain that shoots into the extremities.
Doctors should perform a thorough evaluation to determine whether back pain is being caused by injured back muscles, a spine condition, or a combination of the two. A very common test is the straight leg raise test, which can help determine whether there is a neuropathic issue in the lumbar spine that is causing pain.
Additional diagnostic steps include:
- Review of medical history
- Questions about specific symptoms
- Hands-on examination including palpation of the intrinsic back muscles and deep layers to identify painful areas
- Posture and movement tests
If the diagnosis is a spine condition, initial treatment will still be conservative in nature. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and steroid injections are all highly effective in managing symptoms and improving back function. Healthy lifestyle options are also important. In fact, strengthening the back muscles through regular low-impact exercise can help improve posture and stability, promoting spine health.
Surgery can become an option for spine conditions if weeks or months of conservative treatment does not bring the relief necessary for a good quality of life. Thanks to advancements in the field of minimally invasive spine surgery, it is now possible to perform many spine procedures on an outpatient basis, which helps promote a shorter and less intensive recovery.
Learn more from the experts at USA Spine Care today
If you are suffering from back pain as a result of chronic muscle strain or a spine condition and want to learn more about treatment options, contact USA Spine Care today. Our multidisciplinary team can help you develop a personalized treatment plan, whether you require physical therapy or minimally invasive spine surgery.
Contact us today to learn more.