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What are the Differences between Acute and Chronic Back Pain?

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Back pain can be triggered by a variety of factors including a blow to the back, staying hunched over a laptop for hours, lifting heavy items repetitively, staying on your feet for prolonged periods, over-exerting back muscles, and so on. Hence, the reason why back pain is one of the most commonly experienced problems in the world.

When back pain strikes, it presents itself as an acute or chronic condition. Ideal treatment for the pain usually depends on the type of back pain you are suffering from. This is why it is important to understand the differences between these 2 types of back pain.

Acute Back Pain

Acute back pain is a term used to refer to pain that comes on suddenly and lasts for only a short period (i.e. several days to a few weeks). This type of back pain usually appears in the wake of some form of trauma to the back. The pain usually stems from trauma caused by regular or even daily over-exertion of back muscles. Other times the pain occurs as a result of physical injury such as a blow to the back, awkward twisting of the back during a fall, or sudden jolting motion that causes back muscles, ligaments, or tendons to overstretch, sprain, or tear. Aside from over-exertion and injury, acute back pain can also be caused by a number of spine disorders. Regardless of the cause, the pain experienced is just the body’s natural way of alerting you from back injury.

Depending on the severity of injury, acute back pain can present itself as a dull, sharp, aching, burning, or stabbing, discomfort that will either be localized to a section of the back or spread over a large area. The severity of pain usually subsides spontaneously over time as the injured muscle heals. Acute back pain also comes with a few limitations including inability to stand up straight and stiffness that limits back flexibility and range of motion.

The good news about acute back pain is that it can be treated at home without the intervention of a doctor. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to relieve pain while cold and hot compresses can be applied to promote the recovery of injured muscles.

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain is persistent or intermittent pain that lasts for a period of more than 3 months. This kind of pain usually develops as the after-effect of back trauma/injury or spinal disorder that causes a degeneration of the spine. Acute back pain that goes untreated can also develop into chronic pain. There are also some rare instances when chronic back pain develops with no identifiable pain generator. In such instances, the pain is referred to as “chronic benign pain”.

The symptoms and limitations of chronic back pain are similar to those of acute back pain. The pain can be dull, achy, piercing, burning, or deep, with those suffering from chronic back pain finding it difficult to stand straight or move the back in certain directions. However, chronic back pain lasts longer (several months or even years) than acute pain. What’s more, the pain gets worse with time with activities such as bending, lifting items, driving, and sitting in one position for long causing an increase in the pain’s intensity.

Treatment for chronic back pain is complex and requires the intervention of a doctor or pain specialist. Depending on the cause of pain, treatment can include pain medication, injections to the site, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS units), Epidural anesthesia, or physical therapy. In some instances, treatment will involve a combination of therapies.

So, there you are, the differences between acute and chronic back pain. With this information, you should be able to adequately deal with back pain when it strikes.

Understanding 2 Different Types of Back Pain

Back pain is so common that statistics show that 4 out of 5 people will experience it at some point in their lives. Back pain is also so complex that the manner in which it presents itself varies from one person to the next. For this reason, back pain treatment entails different measures for different people. The best way of figuring out what treatment option would be ideal for you is by having a clear understanding of the basics of back pain. This quick post offers some insights that will be helpful when you are dealing with back pain.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Back

The back is quite extensive and consists of many muscles that run all the way from the pelvis to the cranium. These muscles are divided into 2 main groups (extrinsic and intrinsic muscles) and several sub-groups (such as superficial, intermediate, and deep layers). Each muscle group features its own set of muscles.

The back also holds the spine, which comprises of 32 bones. These bones are divided into 5 sections each containing several bones held together. The different bones that make up the spinal column are connected to each other by ligaments.

The backs anatomy of many muscles and several interconnected and overlapping spinal structures (bones, ligaments, and joints) makes it highly prone to pain. Anything from trauma, to muscle irritation, to maintaining a bad posture for long periods can trigger back pain.

The Main Types of Back Pain

Back pain, which can either be chronic (long-term lasting for more than 3 months) or acute (short-term lasting for a few days or weeks), is usually classified into 2 main types depending on where the pain is originating from. These are:

#1: Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain can be felt anywhere along the upper and middle sections of the back. This area of the back is referred to as the thoracic vertebrae. It holds the spinal section that begins at the base of the neck and ends just below the rib cage. Pain may also be felt along the shoulders and neck.

Bones found in the upper back are not required to move that much while muscles in this area only support minor functions such as connecting your arms to your torso and assisting in respiratory function. For this reason, upper back pain is usually not serious and is less common than lower back pain.

Upper back pain usually occurs when the ligaments and tendons in the area are overstretched or put under undue stress. This can happen during an accident, when one is exercising, or in the event of maintaining a poor posture for an extended period. Obesity and emotional tension are also known to trigger upper back pain.

The good thing about upper back pain is that it can be remedied with rest or the use of pain relievers. Avoiding overusing the muscles in the upper back and keeping a straight posture at all times can help prevent the pain from worsening or occurring again in future.

#2: Lower Back Pain

This is the most common type of back pain and is usually felt at the base of the back. Just like upper back pain, lower back pain usually occurs as a result overstretching or overusing the muscles in this area. Stress, excessive weight, and trauma are also common contributors of lower back pain. In some instances, lower back pain will occur as a symptom of a number of illnesses.

Lower back pain is usually treated with analgesic medicine and hot or cold compresses. Low-impact exercises have been shown to boost recovery and as such, they are used as a treatment option.

Whether felt on the upper or lower back, the intensity and nature of pain tends to vary. This has seen back pain further categorized into several types including:

  • Ligament sprain: This is one of the most common types of back pain and occurs when back muscles, tendons, or ligaments stretch beyond their normal capability or tear. It is usually caused by over-exertion of those back structures or sudden violent movements such as a jerking motion.
  • Herniated Nucleus Pulposus (HNP): Simply referred to as a herniated disc, this type of back pain occurs when part of or the entire spinal column is put under so much pressure that the jelly-like substance cushioning the intervertebral discs ruptures.
  • Axial pain: Also referred to as mechanical pain, axial pain is the general term used to describe back pain brought on by strain on back muscles. This type of pain presents itself differently among different people. It can be sharp, dull, constant, or intermittent.
  • Referred pain: This is back pain that moves from place to place and varies in intensity as time passes. The pain is usually dull or achy.
  • Radicular pain: When the spinal nerve root suffers compression, becomes inflamed, or incurs injury, a deep and searing pain may be felt along the path of the nerve. This is what is referred to as radicular pain.

What to Do When Experiencing Back Pain

If you are suffering from back pain, chances are you may have overstretched or overused the muscles and ligaments in the back. A bit of rest should be enough to relieve pain. You can also use pain medication to help with the pain. However, if these 2 steps fail to yield results, seek medical attention. A doctor will be able to identify the underlying cause of pain and therefore come up with effective treatment measures. It is also advisable to see you physician if the pain is accompanied by other symptoms.

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