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Different Types of Back Pain

Back Be Nimble Newsletter - October 2001

Getting an appropriate diagnosis for back pain can be very difficult, as the symptoms may be difficult to describe and diagnostic tests are often inconclusive or don't adequately explain what is causing your pain.

Understanding the broad categories of back pain and related symptoms can help you in getting a diagnosis and appropriate treatment plan. Three common classifications of back pain include:

Axial pain:

Also called mechanical pain, is the most common cause of back pain and may be felt in a number of different ways (sharp or dull, constant or comes and goes, etc). By far the most common form of axial pain is a muscle strain(pulled muscle) which is usually related to an imbalance and/or joint dysfunction.

Referred pain:

Simply put, "referred pain" means that the pain in one place is originating somewhere else. It is often described as dull or aching, often comes and goes and frequently migrates to other areas. It may spread out from the lower back into the groin, pelvis, buttock or upper thigh. Referred pain may result from injury to nerves, disks, or joints of the lower back. A common form of this type of pain is degenerative disc disease, which may cause referred pain to the hips and posterior thighs. It is not uncommon for unhealthy organs to refer pain to the muscles and body parts as well.

Radicular pain:

Pain often described as deep, spreading out through the arm or the leg, and sometimes also includes a sensation of numbness, tingling or weakness in the arm or leg. It is usually felt in one arm or leg and not both at the same time. This type of pain is caused by some type of injury or pressure on the nerve root (usually compression or inflammation). In lower back problems radicular symptoms are commonly referred to as sciatica and usually caused by a herniated disc or spinal stenosis.

Most types of back pain will get better with time and can be addressed with conservative treatments, such as physical therapy, chiropractic or osteopathic manipulations, and/or medications. However, there are a few symptoms that are possible indications of a serious medical condition and patients with these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately. These symptoms include: sudden bowel and/or bladder incontinence; progressive weakness in the legs; severe, continuous abdominal pain along with back pain.

In general, pain is a very subjective experience. Some people can have a large herniated disc and experience no pain at all, and for others a simple muscle strain can cause excruciating back pain that takes a long time to get better. Also, with some conditions, the pain can flare from time to time and then reside, but may get worse over time. So while diagnostic tests can help with a diagnosis, understanding and clearly describing your pain is also very important.

We hope that a better understanding of different types of back pain and related symptoms will help you better manage your back health.

At Back Be Nimble, we bend over backwards to help your back be nimble again!

Best Wishes,

Dr. Brad Lustick
CEO and Ergonomic Supervisor

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