Chronic Spinal Pain

    Last updated date: 03-Mar-2023

    Originally Written in English

    Chronic Spinal Pain

    Chronic Spinal Pain

    What is Chronic spinal pain?

    Chronic spinal pain (also known as chronic back pain) is one of the primary causes of disability in individuals all over the world. It is applicable to persistent neck, thoracic, and low back pain. Despite the regularity with which this ailment presents, a firm grasp of its etiologies is frequently elusive. In theory, any innervated spinal structure, such as muscles, synovial joints, intervertebral discs, dura mater, and ligaments, might induce pain.

    Chronic back pain is defined as lasting three months or more. It might come and go, providing short relief and then frustration. Dealing with persistent back pain can be especially difficult if you don't know what to do.

    The phrase "chronic pain" refers to discomfort that lasts longer than three to six months or goes beyond the point of tissue healing. Depending on the circumstances, this form of pain may alternatively be referred to as "chronic benign pain" or "chronic non-cancer pain." (Because there is continuing and observable tissue destruction, chronic pain from cancer is more acute or acute-recurrent in nature. There is also persistent pain caused by a known reason, which will be described later). The phrase "chronic pain" will be utilized throughout this discussion.

    Chronic pain is typically less directly linked to visible tissue damage and structural issues. Chronic pain includes undetermined back pain, failed back surgery syndrome (pain that persists after the operation has healed fully), and fibromyalgia. Acute pain is better understood than chronic pain.

    Chronic pain can take numerous forms; however, it is frequently classified into one of two basic categories:

    1. Pain having a known cause, such as an injury. Certain structural spine problems, such as degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis, can cause chronic pain until they are corrected. These disorders are the result of a diagnosable anatomical issue. If the pain from these disorders does not go away after a few weeks or months of nonsurgical therapy, spine surgery may be recommended as a therapeutic option.
    2. Chronic pain with no known reason. When pain continues after the tissue has healed and there is no obvious cause for the suffering, it is referred to as "chronic benign pain." 


    What are the Common sites of Chronic back pain?

    Spinal pain in the lumbar

    Spinal pain in the lumbar (lower back) and cervical (neck) regions is quite common and frequently causes several missed work days. The most prevalent causes of low back pain are lumbar muscle strains and sprains. The thoracic spine may also cause back discomfort, but because it is significantly stiffer, it is far less commonly damaged than the lumbar and cervical spine.

    Because of their weight-bearing role and participation in movement, twisting, and bending, the lumbar and cervical spines are prone to strain. Lumbar muscular strain occurs when muscle fibers are strained or damaged excessively. Lumbar sprain occurs when ligaments — the tight bands of tissue that connect bones — are stretched abnormally. Both of these might be caused by a sudden accident or by cumulative usage.

    Soft tissues in the lumbar spine become inflamed when it is strained or injured. Inflammation produces soreness and may result in muscular spasms. Even while lumbar strain or sprain can be quite painful, neither generally need neurosurgical intervention.

    Spinal pain might be caused by more serious issues that may necessitate surgical intervention. These often entail back discomfort radiating into the arms, legs, or along the rib cage from the back into the anterior chest.


    What are the Symptoms of Chronic back pain?

    symptoms of chronic back pain

    Non-surgical low back, cervical, and thoracic pain often affects the central or paraspinal soft tissue without spreading into the arms, chest, or legs. Pain radiating from the spine into the limbs or chest wall, on the other hand, indicates structural pinching of the nerves in the spine, which may necessitate a surgical opinion if the situation does not improve within days to weeks with non-surgical symptomatic therapy.

    Other symptoms include:

    • Stiffness in the low back area, restricting the range of motion
    • Inability to maintain normal posture due to stiffness and/or pain
    • Muscle spasms either with activity or at rest
    • Pain that persists for a maximum of 10-14 days
    • Notable loss of motor function such as the ability to tiptoe or heel walk.


    What Causes Chronic back pain?

    causes chronic back pain

    The human back is a complicated system made up of muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, and bones that work together to support the body and allow us to move. The segments of the spine are cushioned by discs, which are cartilage-like pads. Back pain can be caused by issues with any of these components. In certain circumstances, the source of back discomfort is unknown. Strain, medical conditions, and improper posture, among other things, can cause damage.



    Back pain is frequently caused by strain, stress, or injury. Frequent causes of back pain are:

    • Strained muscles or ligaments
    • Muscle spasms
    • Muscular tension
    • Damaged discs
    • Accidents, fractures, or falls

    Activities that might cause strains or spasms include lifting something incorrectly, lifting something too heavy, and making a quick and abnormal movement.


    Muscle deconditioning

    One of the most prevalent reasons of persistent back pain is muscular deconditioning, often known as muscle atrophy. Muscle deconditioning occurs when your back muscles lack the strength and stability to adequately support you, resulting in wear and tear over time.

    Some deconditioning comes naturally as we age, but the main cause is a lack of physical exercise.

    If your back is bothering you or you've recently injured yourself, you've undoubtedly begun to ease off or avoid certain activities. To assist your back heal in the near term, it is generally suggested that you adapt your activity or avoid things like heavy lifting.

    Inactivity, on the other hand, can cause muscles to shrink and weaken. When this happens, your back muscles may no longer be able to support your ligaments and vertebrae as well as they should, which can cause pain or make you more prone to injury.


    Structural problems

    Back pain can also be caused by a variety of structural issues.

    • Ruptured discs: Discs cushion each vertebra in the spine. If the disc ruptures, greater pressure is placed on a nerve, resulting in back pain.
    • Bulging discs: Similar to ruptured discs, a bulging disc can put greater stress on a nerve.
    • Sciatica: A bulging or herniated disc presses on a nerve, causing a sharp and shooting pain to go down the buttock and down the back of the leg.
    • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis can cause joint difficulties in the hips, lower back, and other areas. In rare circumstances, the space around the spinal cord becomes smaller. This is referred to as spinal stenosis.
    • Abnormal spine curvature: Back pain can occur when the spine curves abnormally. Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine slopes to the side.
    • Osteoporosis: Bones, notably the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous, increasing the likelihood of compression fractures.
    • Kidney issues: Kidney stones or infections can cause back pain.


    Movement and posture

    When using computers, adopting a slumped sitting position might lead to increasing back and shoulder difficulties over time.

    Back pain can also be caused by certain routine activities or bad posture such as:

    • Twisting
    • Coughing or sneezing
    • Muscle tension
    • Over-stretching
    • Bending awkwardly or for long periods
    • Pushing, pulling, lifting, or carrying something 
    • Standing or sitting for long periods 
    • Straining the neck forward, such as when driving or using a computer
    • Long driving sessions without a break, even when not hunched


    Genetics and aging

    Our bodies change as we age, and aches and pains become increasingly prevalent. We lose muscular strength as well as disc space in our spine.

    Of course, the other chronic pain-causing illnesses discussed in this piece might speed the normal aging process.


    Other causes

    Back pain can be caused by a variety of medical issues.

    • Cauda equina syndrome: The cauda equine is a collection of spinal nerve roots that emerge from the lower end of the spinal cord. A dull discomfort in the lower back and upper buttocks, as well as numbness in the buttocks, genitalia, and thighs, are common symptoms. Bowel and bladder function problems occur from time to time.
    • Spinal cancer: A tumor on the spine may push against a nerve, causing back discomfort.
    • Other infections: Back pain can also be caused by pelvic inflammatory disease, bladder infections, or kidney infections.
    • Sleep disorders: Individuals with sleep difficulties are more prone than others to suffer from back pain.
    • Shingles: Back pain can be caused by an infection that affects the nerves. This is determined by which nerves are impacted.


    Chronic back pain diagnosis

    Chronic back pain diagnosis

    Your primary care physician can frequently establish the source and diagnosis of your back pain. If necessary, they will refer you to a specialist and/or request testing for you. Specialists to consider include:

    • A physical therapist.
    • An osteopath.
    • A chiropractor.
    • A medical spine doctor specialized in back pain.
    • An orthopedic specialist who focuses on bones and joints.

    If you're having trouble coping with your pain, your doctor may suggest seeing a therapist or psychiatrist.

    Your doctor will ask if you hurt yourself, how long you've had back pain, and how serious it is. They need to know about any other medical issues you have and what drugs you are taking. Inform your provider if you have family members who have experienced similar problems. They may also ask questions like:

    • Do you have the ability to work every day?
    • Do you have a job that requires you to lift?
    • Do any of your activities make your back discomfort worse?
    • Do you have any more symptoms? (For example, if you experience pain when urinating in addition to back pain, this might be an indication of a urinary tract infection.)
    • Where is your pain located?
    • How does the pain affect your daily activities?
    • Have you tried any at-home remedies? (Ice packs, heat pads, etc.)

    Diagnostic testing is typically only required when the pain has lasted longer than two weeks and has not improved as predicted. Similarly, if pain extends into the limbs or around the chest much beyond the spinal epicenter of the pain concentration, underlying reasons such as undiscovered spinal disc damage must be ruled out.

    If your symptoms persist, your doctor may prescribe the following tests. It is vital to emphasize that, regardless of diagnosis, an improved clinical picture suggests that nonsurgical treatments should be continued. Additional diagnostic attempts should be conducted if the improvement does not reach a suitable stable point. Similarly, if clinical symptoms worsen, the diagnostic assessment must be prolonged.

    • X-rays. The use of radiation to create a film or photograph of a bodily component can reveal the structure of the vertebrae and the contour of the joints. X-rays of the spine are taken to look for other potential reasons of pain, such as spinal misalignment, tumors, infections, fractures, and so on.
    • MRI. A diagnostic technique that uses strong magnets and computer technologies to create three-dimensional photographs of bodily structures. MRIs can detect enlargement, degeneration, and tumors in the spinal cord, nerve roots, and adjacent regions, as well as enlargement, degeneration, and malignancies. When contrast is added to the study, it becomes sensitive enough to detect inflammatory processes such as infections and new compression fractures in the absence of spinal malalignment.
    • CT scans. It reveals more bony detail than any other imaging test while still revealing soft tissue and nerves.
    • Bone scan.
    • Electromyography (EMGs) or nerve conduction velocity (NCV) testing. Neurophysiologic examination of nerves using EMG/NCV to assist locate the source of compression or other neurological diseases.


    Chronic back pain treatment

    Chronic back pain treatment

    Non-surgical treatments

    Physical Therapy

    The core of chronic back pain therapy is exercise. It's one of the first therapies you should undertake with the help of your doctor and a spine physical therapist. The same set of workouts does not work for everyone. The workouts must be adapted to your particular symptoms and condition. Maintaining a home workout program is also critical to success.

    Physical therapy for chronic back pain may include:

    • Correcting your posture.
    • Testing the limits of pain tolerance
    • Stretching and flexibility exercises
    • Aerobic exercises
    • Core strengthening


    Mindfulness and Meditation

    Chronic back pain is both physically and emotionally stressful. You may be referred to a rehabilitation psychologist to help you deal with the frustration, irritability, depression, and other psychological components of living with chronic pain. To distract your mind from focusing on pain, this physician may offer meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other cognitive and relaxation treatments.



    Some diets, particularly those heavy in trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, are extremely inflammatory. Consult your doctor to determine whether your diet is contributing to your persistent back pain and how you might improve it. Maintaining a healthy weight may also help relieve back pain by relieving strain on the spine.


    Lifestyle Modifications

    When suffering from chronic pain, it is critical to accept and adjust to your restrictions. Listen to your body and learn to moderate yourself. When mowing the yard, take a rest, and carry groceries in multiple trips. Take note of the activities that aggravate your pain and try to avoid them if at all feasible. This may not only make your back feel better, but it may also prevent the underlying disease from worsening. Another crucial lifestyle modification to consider is quitting smoking. Nicotine is scientifically shown to amplify pain and slow recovery.


    Injection-based Treatments

    Chronic back pain can be treated using nerve blocks, epidural steroid injections, nerve ablations, and other injection-based techniques. They are utilized when the source of the pain is known and can occasionally help rule out particular reasons if the medication does not work. Injections can temporarily relieve or reduce pain, but they are not meant to be long-term remedies and should not be taken in isolation.


    Radiofrequency neurotomy

    In this technique, a small needle is put through your skin and placed near the source of your pain. Radio waves are sent via the needle, damaging adjacent nerves and interfering with pain signal transmission to the brain.


    Alternative Treatments

    Chronic back pain can benefit from acupuncture, massage, biofeedback therapy, laser therapy, electrical nerve stimulation, and other nonsurgical spine therapies.


    Pharmacologic Treatments

    Chronic back pain can be managed with analgesics, anti-inflammatory medicines, muscle relaxants, and other treatments. Most, however, have undesirable side effects and are not meant for long-term usage.

    Opioid drugs should not be used as the initial, exclusive, or long-term therapy for persistent back pain. Many of them are addictive and do not treat the causative factors of your pain. Opioids should only be provided after a complete examination by a professional and after all other medications have failed to offer relief. If you are reliant on opioids to get through the day, it is time to seek a second opinion.


    Surgical treatment

    If they are discovered to be related to your spine problem, these red flags might be indications for surgery:

    • New or progressing bowel/bladder issues
    • Weakness in limbs
    • Gait and balance problems
    • Evidence of increased (brisk) reflexes
    • Surgery may be an option for chronic back pain if there is a known cause that has been identified by imaging and other therapies have failed.

    Back surgery is usually advised as a last option. Back surgery, when performed under the proper conditions and at the appropriate time, can be a long-term treatment for persistent back pain. However, while back surgery is useful for some people, there isn't much evidence to support it as the best option for totally curing persistent back pain.


    Types of back surgery

    Different types of back surgery include:

    • Discectomy. The herniated piece of a disc is removed to reduce nerve discomfort and inflammation. To reach the ruptured disc, the back section of a vertebra (lamina) is often removed completely or partially.
    • Laminectomy. The bone that covers the spinal canal is removed during this treatment. It is used to reduce nerve pressure caused by spinal stenosis by widening the spinal canal.
    • Fusion. Spinal fusion is the permanent joining of two or more bones in your spine. It can alleviate pain by increasing the stability of a spinal fracture. It is sometimes used to relieve painful motion between vertebrae caused by a deteriorated or damaged disc.
    • Artificial discs. Implanted artificial discs are a therapeutic alternative to spinal fusion for painful movement between two vertebrae caused by a deteriorated or damaged disc. However, most people will not be able to afford this relatively new technology.

    Consider seeking a second opinion from a skilled spine expert before deciding back surgery. Spine doctors may disagree on when to operate, what sort of surgery to conduct, and whether surgery is even necessary for some spine disorders. Back and leg pain can be a difficult problem that needs the collaboration of several health specialists to diagnose and treat.

    Following surgery, the surgeon will give the patient precise instructions and may prescribe pain medication. Depending on the individual postsurgical demands, a spinal brace may be worn for weeks or months. The surgeon will advise you on when you may resume typical activities including working, driving, and exercising. Following surgery, some patients may benefit from supervised rehabilitation or physical therapy.



    Chronic Spinal Pain

    Back pain can range from a little discomfort to an unbearable excruciation. Back discomfort is the second most popular cause for patients to visit their doctors (just after colds). Many individuals miss work as a result of it. Back pain affects around 80% to 90% of persons in the United States at some time in their life.

    The patient should be aware that there are typically no absolutes when it comes to medical or surgical treatment of spinal disorders. Every patient is distinct. It might be difficult to choose which therapy or elective procedure is ideal for each individual case. As a result, patients must be cautious while selecting a physician. This applies to both non-surgeons and surgeons. Choose a doctor with whom the patient is at ease, regardless of the outcome. The finest doctors are the ones a patient can rely on to stick with them when the treatment outcome is less than ideal.