When it comes to different types of pain, chronic back pain is one of the most commonly diagnosed type of pain. Research states that 80 percent of people will have back problems at some point in their lives, the most common being low back pain, which is noted as being a main cause of disability in adults throughout the United States.
Back pain does not discriminate. The pain can occur anywhere along the spine or in the nearby muscles, but can vary in both intensity and frequency. Since the spine protects the most important elements in our central nervous system (CNS), which is the brain and spinal cord, any kind of back pain is a warning that something is wrong or damaged, and should be taken seriously, not ignored. If left untreated, some causes of back pain can lead to permanent damage to the spine or nerves.
Humans are vertebrates, as we have a backbone and a skeleton. This backbone protects and provides structural support. Extending from the skull to the pelvis, the spine – called the spinal or vertebral column – is a group of 33 individual interlocking bones called vertebrae, which are the bony building blocks of the spine. The vertebrae contain multiple critical elements, responsible for enabling our spine to be able to function properly. These vertebrae are stacked on top of each other, attached with a rubbery spine disc in between each one, acting as a shock absorber. The spine is composed and segmented into five regions, each one being a different location along the spinal column. The regions are as follows:
1. Cervical Spine (Neck)
2. Thoracic Spine (Upper Back)
3. Lumbar Spine (Lower Back)
4. Sacral Spine (Bottom of Spine)
5. Coccygeal (Coccyx, or Tailbone)
The thing is, most people who have back pain don’t seek treatment, which often causes the pain to radiate to other areas of the spine, or even other parts of the body. In other words, sometimes back pain can be hard to diagnose, because many of the intricate structures in the spine can lead to pain stemming from the neck or other places, but also for other reasons, such as degeneration or a pinched nerve.
Middle and upper back pain are not as common as neck and lower back pain, because the vertebrae located in the middle regions of the spine do not typically flex as much as the vertebrae at the ends of the spine, which allow you to move your head and hips. For this reason, middle and upper back pain can often be a sign that there may be some other issue.
Thoracic Back Pain
The thoracic spine is made up of twelve vertebrae, attached to the ribs/sternum (breastbone). This region is commonly described as the upper back. There is little motion in the thoracic spine, so this region has less risk of injury or wear and tear, when compared to the cervical spine region (neck), and middle back pain and the lumbar region (lower back). However, pain in the thoracic region of the spine has the greatest probability of being caused by a serious underlying condition, compared to other regions of the spine. Due to this, it’s important to keep an eye out for the following symptoms, as back pain in this region may be difficult to diagnose:
- Fever and chills
- Sudden and uncontrollable weight loss
- Noticeable deformities
- Nerve pain-including numbness/tingling in the legs or lower body
- Severe stiffness
- Physical trauma (Ex: car accident)
- Constant and severe pain
If you experience thoracic back pain after a recent trauma or develop any of these unusual symptoms at the same time, do not hesitate to see a doctor, as this area of the spine, as mentioned before, is connected to the ribs, protecting your lungs and heart. Damage to the thoracic vertebrae can affect your cardiovascular system as well, if left untreated.
Lumbar Back Pain
The lumbar spine refers to the lower back, where the spine curves inward toward the abdomen. It starts below the shoulder blades, and connects with the thoracic spine at the top and extends downward to the sacral spine. Our lower back is beneficial for both power and flexibility, enabling us to lift, twist, and bend. Lumbar back pain is the most common and can be caused due to the following:
- Muscular problems
- Degenerated discs
The treatment for back pain in the lower and upper regions depends strongly upon the severity, location, and other factors. Back pain can be relieved by a combination of non-invasive techniques, including stretching, physical therapy, and other treatments. For more severe cases, surgery may be needed.
To learn more about the different types of back pain and how to get some relief, call the Spine Academy of Orthopaedic Associates of Central Maryland at (410) 644-1880, or request an appointment online.