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Back Pain

Anything from an injury to an underlying health problem can cause back pain. The sooner you address the problem — and the cause of it — the better your chances of finding relief.  

There are two types of back pain:

  • Acute: Typically occurs after a fall, injury or heavy lifting
  • Chronic: Pain that persists, or worsens, for three months or longer

Back pain: what you should know

  • As you age, you are more likely to develop back pain. 
  • Lower back pain accounts for the majority of back pain. Four out of five adults will experience significant low back pain at some point in their lives. 
  • Most acute back pain will resolve on its own. You can often find relief with these at-home remedies:
    • Rest
    • Heating pad and/or ice
    • Stretches
    • Exercise
    • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Chronic back pain and significant back problems may require physical therapy, injections, medications and/or surgical intervention.
  • Different types of back pain require different treatments. Back stretches that relieve one kind could intensify another, particularly right after a flare up. Spine and back specialists at Rush can help you identify the right approach.
  • Back pain is one of the most common reasons for patients to see physicians.

Back pain causes

Some causes of back pain include the following:

How can I get help for back pain?

Most back pain will go away on its own within a couple weeks.

While rare, back pain can signal a more serious problem, such as a neurologic condition or cancer. Your primary care doctor might refer you to a spine expert or a pain management specialist at Rush who specializes in diagnosing and treating a wide range of complex back problems.

Talk to your primary care doctor immediately if you have any of these red flags associated with back pain:

  • Numbness or weakness in the legs
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Intense pain that wakes you from sleep
  • Low back pain that shoots into your legs
  • A history of cancer
  • Pain that worsens when you cough or sneeze

Care for back pain at Rush

Your doctor at Rush will develop a personalized treatment plan for you to address your specific back problems. The goal of treatment is to alleviate your pain and improve your quality of life.

Your treatment may include one or more of the following:

Nonsurgical treatments:

  • Physical therapy and rehabilitation: Physiatrists and physical therapists at Rush work with you to determine targeted stretches and exercises that can strengthen your back and core to improve your back pain.
  • Spinal injections: Spine experts and pain management specialists at Rush use image-guided technology to place injected medications — which typically include steroids and anesthetic agents — directly at the source of your pain. In addition to their therapeutic value, spinal injections can also help diagnose back pain.
  • Nutritional and exercise guidance if extra weight is contributing to your back pain.
  • Spinal cord stimulation: This involves blocking transmission of pain signals from the spine to the brain. Interventional pain management specialists perform these procedures, which typically can be performed with no surgical incision. 

Surgical options: Physicians at Rush specialize in minimally invasive and traditional approaches to back and spine surgery. Because they have extensive experience with a variety of surgical procedures, they can recommend the type of surgery most appropriate for your back pain.

Common surgeries for back pain include the following:

  • Discectomy: Removes part of a disc from your spinal column to relieve pressure on the nerves. This is typically performed as an outpatient procedure and often does not involve a hospital stay.
  • Laminectomy: Used to create more space for the nerves by removing the lamina (or roof) of one or more vertebrae. The procedure can be performed by itself or in combination with a spinal fusion.
  • Spinal fusion: A surgery in which two or more vertebrae are permanently joined together. Whenever possible, spine surgeons at Rush perform spinal fusions using minimally invasive approaches that help you heal faster and with less pain.
  • Foraminotomy: Performed to remove pressure from a nerve root by removing a small portion of bone around the affected nerve root. This may be performed by itself or in combination with a laminectomy or a discectomy.

Why choose Rush for back pain care

  • More patients come to Rush for spine care than any other hospital in the Chicago area.
  • The orthopedics, neurology and neurosurgery programs at Rush are consistently ranked among the best in the country in U.S. News & World Report.
  • Spine surgeons at Rush are highly experienced in minimally invasive techniques that typically offer less pain, lower risk of infection, shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery than open surgeries. 

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