Adam C. Young, MD
Alan C. League, MD
Albert Knuth, MD
Alejandra Rodriguez-Paez, MD
Alexander E. Michalow, MD
Alexander Gordon, MD
Alexander J. Tauchen, MD
Alexander M. Crespo, MD
Alfonso Bello, MD
Ami Kothari, MD
Amy Jo Ptaszek, MD
Anand Vora, MD
Andrea S. Kramer, MD
Andrew J. Riff, MD
Angela R. Crowley, MD
Angelo Savino, MD
Anthony Savino, MD
Anuj S. Puppala, MD
Ari Kaz, MD
Ashraf H. Darwish, MD
Ashraf Hasan, MD
Austin Chinn, DPM
Bradley Dworsky, MD
Brian Clay, MD
Brian J. Burgess, DPM
Brian R. McCall, MD
Brian Schwartz, MD
Brian Weatherford, MD
Brooke Vanderby, MD
Bruce Summerville, MD
Bryan Waxman, MD
Bryant S. Ho, MD
Carey E. Ellis, MD
Carla Gamez, DPM
Cary R. Templin, MD
Charles L. Lettvin, MD
Charles M. Lieder, DO
Chinyoung Park, MD
Christ Pavlatos, MD
Christian Skjong, MD
Christopher C. Mahr, MD
Christopher J. Bergin, MD
Craig Cummins, MD
Craig Phillips, MD
Craig S. Williams, MD
Craig Westin, MD
Daniel M. Dean, MD
David Beigler, MD
David Guelich, MD
David H. Garelick, MD
David Hamming, MD
David Hoffman, MD
David M. Anderson, MD
David Raab, MD
David Schneider, DO
Djuro Petkovic, MD
Douglas Diekevers, DPM
Douglas Solway, DPM
E. Quinn Regan, MD
Eddie Jones Jr., MD
Edward J. Logue, MD
Ellis K. Nam, MD
Eric Chehab, MD
Eric L. Lee, MD
Evan A. Dougherty, MD
Garo Emerzian, DPM
Gary Shapiro, MD
Giridhar Burra, MD
Gregory Brebach, MD
Gregory J. Fahrenbach, MD
Gregory Portland, MD
Harpreet S. Basran, MD
Holly L. Brockman, MD
Inbar Kirson, MD, FACOG, Diplomate ABOM
Jacob M. Babu, MD, MHA
Jalaal Shah, DO
James M. Hill, MD
James R. Bresch, MD
Jason G. Hurbanek, MD
Jason Ghodasra, MD
Jason J. Shrouder-Henry, MD
Jeffrey Ackerman, MD
Jeffrey Goldstein, MD
Jeffrey Staron, MD
Jeffrey Visotsky, MD
Jeremy Oryhon, MD
Jing Liang, MD
John H. Lyon, MD
Jonathan Erulkar, MD
Jordan L. Goldstein, MD
Josephine H. Mo, MD
Juan Santiago-Palma, MD
Justin Gent, MD
Justin M. LaReau, MD
Kellie Gates, MD
Kermit Muhammad, MD
Kevin Chen, MD
Kris Alden MD, PhD
Leah R. Urbanosky, MD
Leigh-Anne Tu, MD
Leon Benson, MD
Lori Siegel, MD
Lynn Gettleman Chehab, MD, MPH, Diplomate ABOM
Marc Angerame, MD
Marc Breslow, MD
Marc R. Fajardo, MD
Marie Kirincic, MD
Mark Gonzalez, MD
Mark Gross, MD
Mark Hamming, MD
Mark Mikhael, MD
Matthew L. Jimenez, MD
Mehul H. Garala, MD
Michael C. Durkin, MD
Michael Chiu, MD
Michael J. Corcoran, MD
Michael O'Rourke, MD
Nathan G. Wetters, MD
Nikhil K. Chokshi, MD
Paul L. Goodman, DPM, FACFAS, FAPWCA
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Peter Thadani, MD
Phillip Ludkowski, MD
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Rhutav Parikh, MD
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Ritesh Shah, MD
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Ronak M. Patel, MD
Scott Jacobsen, DPM
Sean A. Sutphen, DO
Serafin DeLeon, MD
Shivani Batra, DO
Stanford Tack, MD
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Steven M. Mardjetko, MD
Steven S. Louis, MD
Steven W. Miller, DPM
Surbhi Panchal, MD
T. Andrew Ehmke, DO
Taizoon Baxamusa, MD
Teresa Sosenko, MD
Theodore Fisher, MD
Thomas Gleason, MD
Timothy J. Friedrich, DPM
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Todd Simmons, MD
Tom Antkowiak, MD, MS
Tomas Nemickas, MD
Van Stamos, MD
Vidya Ramanavarapu, MD
Wayne M. Goldstein, MD
Wesley E. Choy, MD
William P. Mosenthal, MD
William Vitello, MD

Acute and Chronic Back Pain Causes—Plus When to Call the Doctor

This article is part of the Ultimate Guide to Neck and Back Pain Relief

Worldwide, back pain causes more adults to visit a physician than any other reason and is a common reason people miss a day of work.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “90% of people experience back pain at least once in their life, with 50% of the working population experiencing it at least once a year.” The fifth most common cause of physician appointments in the United States is lumbago, or lower back pain.

Read on to learn about acute and chronic back pain causes, common treatments, and when to see a doctor about your pain.

The Different Types of Back Pain

There are many different types of back injury with many potential causes, which means a visit to the doctor is sometimes your best option. The good news is that physicians can treat most back pain causes with non-invasive techniques without resorting to spine surgery.

Of course, your best course of action is to prevent back pain in the first place by maintaining proper posture, using correct techniques for lifting, stretching before exercise, and wearing appropriate footwear for your activity.

Back pain is classified as follows:

  • Acute: Lasts Less Than a Month
  • Subacute: Lasts more Than a Month
  • Chronic: Lasts More Than Three Months

If back pain lasts longer than three days, you should see a physician. Physicians will pinpoint the issue to one of four specific areas of your back:

  • Neck (Cervical Region)
  • Upper Back (Thoracic Region)
  • Lower Back (Lumbar Region)
  • Tailbone (Sacral and Coccyx Regions)

After the doctor determines the location and duration of your pain, they will start looking at the pathology or back pain causes.

Potential Back Pain Causes

While there are many possible reasons for back pain, many have no serious underlying cause. In fact, according to MedScape, in over 97% of cases, the diagnosis is acute with no specific location.

Occasionally, there are underlying reasons for the pain— some potentially life-threatening—like cancer or infection. Other back pain causes are less severe, like sciatica or bulging discs. In rare cases, some individuals may even have an extra vertebra, which causes the spine to function abnormally.

Some of the most common back pain causes include:

  • Injuries From Exercise, Heavy Lifting, or Sudden and Awkward Movements
  • Muscle Spasms
  • Trauma From Falls Vehicle Accidents
  • Osteoporosis
  • Small Compression Fractures
  • Arthritis Causing the Hollow Area Around the Spinal Cord to Narrow
  • Bulging Discs or Herniated Discs
  • Constipation
  • Stress
  • Depression

Additionally, there is potential for serious underlying conditions that cause back pain, including:

  • Metastatic Cancer, Which Is Cancer That Has Spread to the Spine From Another Location
  • Fractured Vertebrae Following Severe Trauma
  • Osteomyelitis or an Infection of the Vertebral Body
  • Cauda Equina Syndrome, a Serious Neurological Problem
  • Epidural Abscess Between the Spinal Cord and the Vertebrae

Potential Treatment Options

Because there are so many potential back pain causes, it is essential to get a diagnosis from a back pain specialist, like those at Chicagoland’s IBJI.

Sometimes the proper treatment is pretty straightforward. The use of hot and cold therapy, massage, acupuncture, exercise, and manipulation are common ways to treat less serious back pain causes.

In some instances of back pain, your physician may prescribe medications. The types of medication used in treating more severe cases include:

  • Pain Relievers
  • Muscle Relaxants
  • Anti-Inflammatories
  • Narcotic Pain Relievers
  • Anti-Depressants

In the most severe cases, a physician may advise you to have surgical intervention performed. Surgical treatments may include one technique or a combination of different methods. These techniques can range from minimally-invasive outpatient surgery to more intricate arthroscopic procedures that require a hospital stay.

For more on specific types of surgical options available for various back pain causes, be sure to consult with a qualified orthopedic spine surgeon.

When to See a Doctor

Seeing a doctor for your back pain is often necessary. If the pain has lasted longer than three days, you should strongly consider making an appointment. Severe pain that affects how you move and normally function usually necessitates an appointment.

If you are starting an exercise program, it is first necessary to be cleared by your doctor to prevent further back injury and other potential issues. If you are concerned about prolonged back pain, a doctor may be able to assist in alleviating your discomfort.

The physicians at IBJI are always ready to help you when you are experiencing any back or joint pain. Find one of IBJI’s orthopedic spine specialists near you to get back on your feet and get rid of your back pain.

*The blog is for general information and educational purposes only regarding musculoskeletal conditions.The information provided does not constitute the practice of medicine or other healthcare professional services, including the giving of medical advice, and no doctor-patient relationship is formed. Readers with musculoskeletal conditions should seek the advice of their healthcare professionals without delay for any condition they have. The use of the information is at the reader’s own risk. The content is not intended to replace diagnosis, treatment or medical advice from your treating healthcare professional.

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