Spine Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The spine is one of the most essential structures in the human body. It is divided into three sections the lumbar, thoracic, and cervical regions. The spine or backbone serves as a support system for the body’s weight and protection for the spinal cord. Besides the natural ‘S’ curve of the backbone which helps it to endure great extents of stress, it is also made up of a series of bones, stacked on top of each other and cushioned by cartilage-like pads called discs. Spine pain in the lower back, thoracic, and middle back is a widespread problem that requires medical attention and can affect anyone.

Causes of spine pain

Muscle strains and sprains in the lumbar region are the most common causes of spine pain in the middle back, lower back and neck regions. However, the thoracic spine, which is the area between the cervical (neck area) and lumbar spines, is also susceptible to spinal pain although in very rare cases because of its rigidity. Mostly, pain on the spine mainly occurs due to injury on the lumbar and cervical regions and very rarely on the thoracic region. The cervical and lumbar spines are predisposed to strain and sprain because of the weight-bearing and flexibility (bending, twisting, moving) function.

Spine pain results from:

  • Lumbar muscle sprain or strain, which causes inflammation of the soft tissues.
  • Scoliosis: pain on the backbone may result from an abnormal curvature of the spine usually to the side.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition affects bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, causing them to be brittle and porous, which leads to compression fractures and pain.
  • Cauda equina syndrome: This syndrome affects the bundle of spinal nerve roots that stem from the lower end of the spinal cord.
  • Spine cancer: A tumor can compress nearby nerves, which can result in pain.
  • Spine infections
  • Spinal stenosis: Narrowing of the space in the spine because of injuries, herniated disks or bone overgrowth.
  • Spondylolisthesis: a condition which occurs when spinal bones push forward and apply pressure on the bone below it.
  • Sciatica: this condition occurs when the sciatic nerve becomes inflamed due to a bone spur, herniated disc, among other issues that pinch the nerve.

Although spine pain is usually a result of a sprain or strain, there could be a more severe underlying condition which requires the expertise of a physician.  Severe spine problems often involve discomfort that radiates into the arms, around the chest or down the legs. Other symptoms include:

  • Stiffness in the lumbar region
  • Restricted motion
  • Inability to retain a normal posture
  • Consistent pain that persists for two weeks
  • Loss of motor functions

Spine pain diagnostics and treatment

Typically, diagnostic testing becomes necessary if the discomfort has persisted for more than two weeks without any improvement. Additionally, if the pain radiates into other parts of the body, a diagnosis is done to rule out any underlying conditions. These tests may include:

Treatment options include:

  • Rest and reduced activity: Pain on the backbone can be relieved by rest or reduced activity for a short period, preferably one to three days, to ensure muscles retain their strength.
  • Medicine: Mild to moderate pain can be treated by medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, muscle relaxants, narcotics, among others. However, be sure to check with your doctor before taking any medicines to avoid further complications.
  • Physical therapy: This spine pain treatment process involves an evaluation by a therapist to determine a personalized treatment method for the patient depending on their symptoms. The treatments can include stretching exercises, ice and heat therapy, gentle massage, ultrasound, pelvic traction, electrical muscle stimulation, and so on.
  • Spine surgery: If the pain does not respond well to non-surgical treatment methods, surgery may help.

If your spine pain persists without any improvements, please see a doctor.