Back Pain FAQs
Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
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Q:Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. True or False?
A:True. Nearly everyone has low back pain at some time during their life. Men and women are equally affected. Low back pain occurs most often between 30 and 50 years of age. This is due in part to the aging process but also as a result of sedentary lifestyles with too little (sometimes punctuated by too much) exercise.
Q:The only neurological ailment more common than back pain is what?
A:Headache. Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States -- only headache is more common. Fortunately, most occurrences of low back pain resolve within a few days.
Q:Which condition literally translates to "horse's tail"?
A:Cauda equina. The term "cauda equina" literally means horse's tail and refers to the normal anatomy of the end of the spinal cord in the low back where it divides into many bundles of nerve tracts resembling a horse's tail. Compression of the spinal cord at this level can lead to a number of typical symptoms of the cauda equina syndrome, including low back pain, sciatica, saddle sensory changes, bladder and bowel incontinence, and lower extremity motor and sensory loss.
Q:Ankylosing spondylitis is what type of disease of the spine?
A:Arthritis. Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of inflammatory arthritis of the spine. It causes swelling between the vertebrae, which are the bony building blocks that make up the spine. The disease is more common and more severe in men and often runs in families. Over time, chronic inflammation of the spine (spondylitis) can lead to a complete cementing together (fusion) of the vertebrae, a process referred to as ankylosis. Ankylosis leads to loss of mobility of the spine.
Q:What describes the condition involving painful pressure on a specific nerve in the back?
A:Sciatica. Sciatica is a condition in which a herniated or ruptured disc presses on the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that extends down the spinal column to its exit point in the pelvis and carries nerve fibers to the leg. This compression causes shock-like or burning low back pain combined with pain through the buttocks and down one leg, occasionally reaching the foot.
Q:What is the medical term for widespread musculoskeletal pain that can involve the spine?
A:Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and multiple "tender points," particularly in the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. Additional symptoms may include sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, and anxiety.
Q:What is the medical term for a spinal curvature disorder that may cause pain?
A:Scoliosis, Kyphosis and Lordosis (Swayback). There are a few spinal conditions that involve curvatures and possible spinal pain: Kyphosis literally means "humpback" and describes a condition in which the spine is bent forward. Lordosis (swayback) refers to a backward curving of the spine. Scoliosis literally means crookedness and is used to describe a bending of the spine to the side.
Q:You should see a doctor for back pain if you experience what?
A:You should see a doctor for back pain if you have numbness or tingling, severe pain that does not improve with rest, pain after a fall or an injury, or pain plus any of these problems: - Fever - Weakness - Trouble urinating - Numbness in your legs - Weight loss when not on a diet
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