Back Pain

Back pain is a prevalent issue that affects millions globally, making itself felt in different ways. More than a minor inconvenience, it can be a significant hindrance to your daily activities and overall quality of life.

Ignoring or leaving back pain untreated can also lead to prolonged discomfort and potentially severe health complications over time. Understanding back pain and getting timely treatment can improve your daily life.

Understanding back pain

Back pain can happen anywhere in the back. It could be in the upper back (thoracic), mid-back (middle thoracic), or lower back (lumbar), and it can sometimes extend to the sacral area at the very bottom of the spine.

Back pain may vary in intensity, frequency, and duration. Usually, the nature of the pain and its location can provide clues about its underlying causes.

Symptoms of back pain

  • Persistent aching or stiffness along the spine.
  • A sharp, localised pain in the neck or back, especially after lifting heavy objects or strenuous activity.
  • Chronic pain in the back, particularly after sitting or standing for extended periods.
  • Pain radiates from the lower back to the buttocks, thighs, or even down to the feet.
  • Inability to stand straight without pain in the lower back.

Causes of back pain

  • Muscle or ligament strain: Repeated heavy lifting straining back muscles and spinal ligaments.
  • Bulging or ruptured discs: Disc cushions between your spine’s bones, can bulge, rupture or press on a nerve.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can narrow the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
  • Skeletal irregularities: A condition where your spine curves to the side (scoliosis) can lead to back pain, but generally only if severe.
  • Osteoporosis: Your spine’s vertebrae can develop painful fractures if your bones become porous and brittle.

Lumbar pain

Lumbar pain is the most common form of back pain. When someone experiences general back pain without care or treatment, it can develop into more specific lumbar pain, which affects the lower back. Here’s how this progression can occur:

Prolonged stress and strain

The lumbar spine is vulnerable to stress because it bears much of the body’s weight and involves bending, twisting, and lifting movements. Chronic or prolonged stress on this part of the spine can cause wear and tear due to poor posture, improper lifting techniques, or prolonged sitting.

This continuous strain can aggravate the lower back, leading to lumbar pain.

Muscle weakness and imbalance

Back pain, when ignored, often leads to decreased physical activity due to discomfort and pain avoidance. This reduction in activity can result in muscle weakness, particularly in the core and lumbar supporting muscles.

Weak muscles cannot adequately support the spine, leading to imbalances and increased pressure on the lumbar spine, exacerbating or leading to lower back pain.

Compensation and overuse

If someone experiences back pain and does not receive appropriate treatment, they may compensate by altering body mechanics. This compensation can lead to overuse of other parts of the back or body, particularly stressing the lumbar region. Over time, this can cause localised lumbar pain as certain muscles, ligaments, and joints in the lower back are overburdened.

Nerve compression or irritation

Chronic back pain might indicate an ongoing issue that can lead to nerve compression or irritation, such as from a bulging or herniated disc. When these issues occur in the lumbar region, they can lead to lumbar radiculopathy (sciatica), characterised by sharp, shooting pains through the buttocks and down the legs, originating from the lumbar area.

How back pain affects you

Back pain can have far-reaching effects on various aspects of your life, both physically and emotionally.

Impaired daily functioning: Back pain impairs your ability to perform routine tasks. Simple activities such as sitting, standing, walking, or lifting objects may become excruciatingly painful or even impossible.

Reduced mobility: You may avoid certain movements or activities to prevent exacerbating the pain. Over time, this avoidance can lead to muscle weakness and further loss of mobility.

Diminished quality of life: Pain can overshadow enjoyable activities and hobbies, making it difficult to find pleasure or fulfilment in daily life.

Psychological distress: The constant discomfort, limitations, and uncertainty about the future can trigger feelings of frustration, anxiety, and helplessness.

Impact on relationships: Your pain may lead to increased dependency on others for help with daily tasks or emotional support, creating tension and resentment.

Long-term health consequences: Untreated back pain can prolong immobility and inactivity, contributing to weight gain, muscle atrophy, and cardiovascular issues.

When to seek medical attention

It’s essential to seek medical attention for back pain if:

  • Pain persists longer than a few weeks.
  • Pain is severe and doesn’t improve with rest.
  • Pain spreads significantly down one or both legs, extending below the knee.
  • Pain is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling is experienced in one or both legs.

Diagnosing back pain

A physical exam and a review of your medical history are necessary to diagnose back pain. Diagnostic imaging (like X-rays, MRIs, or CT scans) may be used to get a clearer view of the spine’s structure and to identify abnormalities.

Treatment for back pain

Treatment for back pain may include:

  • Medications: Pain relievers or prescription drugs can relieve pain and inflammation.
  • Physical therapy: Therapists will teach you exercises to increase flexibility, strengthen your back and improve your posture. Regular exercise can help keep pain from returning.
  • Injections: Sometimes cortisone injections are given to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Surgery: This is usually reserved for pain related to structural problems that haven’t responded to other treatments, such as herniated disks.

Pain specialist

Consulting a pain specialist for back pain, especially when it involves the lower back, offers several substantial benefits that can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life.

Pain specialists with specialised training in treating back pain have a thorough understanding of spinal anatomy and the various conditions that can cause back and lower back pain. Their specialised training allows them to accurately diagnose the underlying cause of the pain, distinguishing between mechanical issues (like herniated discs or spinal stenosis) and other potential causes (such as inflammatory diseases or infections). This accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective treatment.

Pain specialists are trained to perform complex surgeries with the least invasive methods if surgery is necessary. This could include microdiscectomy, spinal fusion, or laminectomy, which are performed to relieve pain and correct structural issues in the spine with minimal risks.

Pain specialist in Singapore

Back pain is a complex condition with various facets. Understanding its nature and seeking appropriate treatment is critical to managing symptoms effectively and maintaining a healthy, active life.

The Pain Specialist is a clinic that specialises in back pain treatment. Our doctors and multidisciplinary teams work together to provide holistic care so you can be on your way to recovery.

Schedule a consultation for back pain treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

If it’s accompanied by fever, weight loss, or incontinence, if the pain is severe and doesn’t improve with rest, or if it starts after a fall or an injury.

Acute back pain, depending on how severe it is, may resolve on its own with self-care. Chronic back pain requires treatment for your condition to improve.

Causes can include pregnancy-related changes, stress, heavy lifting, and conditions like endometriosis.

Kidney pain is often deeper and higher in the back and may be accompanied by fever, urinary symptoms, or nausea.

Muscle pain is often related to activity and feels better with rest. Organ pain might present with other symptoms like nausea or urinary issues.

Spinal pain tends to be more localised and may worsen with movements like bending or lifting. In contrast, muscle pain often involves broader areas and is more associated with soreness or cramps.