Back Pain: When to worry and when to work through it

By Ian Paskowski, DO
Have you ever experienced pain in your back? If so, you are not alone. More than 80 percent of people will experience some type of back pain in their lifetime. It is also one of the most common reasons for missing work and the second-most common reason for visits to the doctor.
Who is most at risk for developing back pain?
There are numerous risk factors that can lead to back pain. If you are overweight, if you do not engage in regular exercise, or if you are a smoker, then you are at a greater risk of developing back pain. Other factors that put you at greater risk of experiencing back pain include having a job that requires frequent bending and lifting or having poor posture. Back pain can improve with integrated medical care.
What are the different types of back pain?
Back pain can be caused by a structural issue such as a muscle injury, arthritis or a herniated disk or a medical issue like an infection or an inflammatory condition. The way you describe your pain will help your healthcare provider in diagnosing the source and treatments options for your pain. Three common types of back pain are:
Axial pain: This is the most common type of pain and is located in the middle of the back along the spine. A muscle strain is a common type of axial pain.
Referred pain: Radiates from the lower back into the groin, pelvis, buttock, and legs.
Radicular pain: This is commonly referred to as sciatica. It is usually described as deep and radiating from the back through an extremity (arm or leg) with accompanied numbness, tingling or weakness. This type of pain is caused by compression, inflammation and/or injury to a spinal nerve.
Psychological problems and emotional stress, such as depression or anxiety, can alter how we perceive pain. Treating psychological factors will often be included as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.
When should I seek professional help for my back pain?
Back pain that arises from reversible problems will usually go away within hours or possibly days. If back pain is persistent, however, and is accompanied by other characteristics, then it should not be ignored. Talk to your healthcare provider if back pain follows a trauma (i.e., a car accident or a fall), pain is constant and getting worse, pain is severe and does not improve after a couple of days of typical remedies (rest, ice, over the counter pain relievers), abdominal pain accompanies back pain, you experience numbness in the saddle area (upper inner thighs, groin, buttock or genital area), and/or if you experience neurological problems like weakness, numbness or tingling in legs or arms.
Ian Paskowski, DO, is the medical director at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth Spine Care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (508) 830-6991.