FAQ’s on Acute and Chronic Back Pain
What is Back Pain (Acute or Chronic)?
There is an important difference between acute and chronic back pain in patients, one that is very important for both the physician and the patient to understand. For the majority of patients, acute pain is the result of a new condition forming in the body. For acute pain, treating the root cause is enough to remove symptoms and provide relief to the patient. Common examples of acute pain include injury and damaged spinal discs. Over 95% of acute pain symptoms are likely fade to in six to twelve weeks. For some unfortunate patients, pain does not resolve.
When symptoms of pain persist for more than three months, it can begin to be labeled chronic pain. In the past, chronic pain was thought to just be a continuing symptom of acute pain. Only recent has chronic pain began to be diagnosed and treated as a separate, standalone condition.
What are the causes of Back Pain?
There a number of things that can cause instances of acute pain for patients. Some of the most common causes include direct spinal injury, pain due to arthritic complications, degenerative disc disease, compression of a nerve, and scoliosis. Patients who are experiencing chronic symptoms of pain may not be suffering symptoms from a single cause, as it is much more likely that chronic pain is the result of a combination of causes.
What are the symptoms of Back Pain?
The symptoms of pain will vary based on what the base cause of pain is in the patient and on how long the pain has been present. Common symptoms of spinal injury include damaged bones surrounding the area of injury, which may potentially affect the surrounding spinal nerves. Arthritis complications can produce painful swelling in the spine, and may compress one or more nerves based on the location of swelling. Symptoms may spread into the arms and/or legs depending on which nerves are affective.
Symptoms of chronic pain will be very similar to the symptoms of the cause of acute pain, but has been found to vary on a patient to patient basis.
How is Back Pain diagnosed?
The methods of diagnosis used for acute pain will be based on what symptoms the patient is exhibiting and presenting to the doctor. A thorough medical exam, combined with the patient’s medical history and a summary of events leading up to the symptoms are the first steps in determining what diagnostic tools are to be used. Imaging techniques will be used during the examination, with an X-ray used to identify physical damage to the bones. For patients exhibiting symptoms of nerve damage, an MRI will be used to examine the tissue of the spine to search for compressed or damaged nerve roots. Patients may also be given a diagnostic nerve block or a discogram in cases where a single nerve or single spinal disc seems to be the likely cause. Diagnosis for acute pain is focused entirely on finding the underlying cause of pain to treat it.
Diagnosis of chronic pain however can be much more difficult, as not all symptoms may be present that would reflect a single cause. Instead, diagnosis is achieved at the discretion of the physician based on what the patient describes of their symptoms.
What are the treatment options for Back Pain?
The treatment used for episodes of acute pain will vary based on what the root cause of pain. Common methods of treatment include medication, physical therapy, chiropractic manipulation, and potentially surgery when it is warranted. Treatment for chronic pain is best approached by a multidisciplinary method tailored to the unique symptoms of the patient.