General Health

Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Back Pain

Overview

If you’re a man or woman struggling with back pain, you should know that you are not alone. According to a Georgetown University study, an estimated 65 million Americans struggle with back pain. And many of those same individuals say they experience pain primarily in their lower back and that it would sometimes radiate to their legs, causing them to become numb.

What Causes Back Pain in the First Place?

Having touched on how prevalent back pain is in the U.S., let’s now turn our attention to what causes it to occur in the first place. Back pain can stem from many things, but the primary contributors, according to a study published by the Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit academic medical center focused on integrated health care, education, and research in Rochester, Minnesota, are as follows:

Muscle or ligament strain – Playing sports or engaging in other physically-demanding activities sometimes forces individuals to make sudden or awkward movements that can put a lot of pressure on the muscles and spinal ligaments in their back. The more these things happen, the more likely it is for back pain to become part of that equation.

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Bulging or ruptured disks – Commonly associated with trauma or age-related wear and tear, bulging or ruptured disks can cause back pain and leg numbness. When someone has bulging or ruptured disks, the disks in their back will press against nearby nerves, which triggers pain in the back and eventually numbness in the legs.

Osteoarthritis – Studies show that osteoarthritis of the spine narrows the space around the spinal cord, which usually leads to a condition known as spinal stenosis. When an individual develops spinal stenosis, it places a tremendous amount of pressure on the nerves in the spine. The longer the pressure on the spine goes untreated, the greater the chances of experiencing low back pain. Although it can stem from trauma and perhaps even other underlying health issues, osteoarthritis is typically a byproduct of aging.

Osteoporosis – This particular bone disease, much like osteoarthritis, can cause backaches for some men and women if it affects their spine. And this is because osteoporosis causes bones in the body to become porous and brittle, both of which can lead to the development of tiny fractures in the spine’s vertebrae that causes severe pain in the upper back.

While we are on the topic, it is worth noting that low bone density, which goes hand-in-hand with osteoporosis, is not uncommon in menopausal women and men over age 50. That said, if either applies to you and you suffer from back pain, it would be a good idea to have your bone density levels checked with a licensed physician as soon as possible.

Other factors that can open the door to back pain and perhaps even leg numbness include obesity, poor posture, and diabetes.

Understanding the Relationship Between Back Pain and Leg Numbness

Having detailed just how prevalent back pain is in America and some of the things that can trigger it, let’s shift gears a bit and discuss how that pain can sometimes give way to leg numbness. When someone has pain that begins in their back and then radiates to their legs and causes numbness, it is known as sciatica. For reference, around 40 percent of Americans will experience sciatica in their lifetime, notes a study published by the Cleveland Clinic.

That said, understanding the relationship between back pain and leg numbness requires knowing a little something about the sciatic nerve, which is a single nerve formed from the joining of five nerve roots in the lower spine and is considered the largest nerve in the human body. For context, the sciatic nerve goes down the lower back and then through the hips, buttocks, and, finally, down each leg. When this enormous nerve gets pinched due to a herniated disk, osteoarthritis, or osteoporosis, for example, it often triggers numbness in these specific areas. But most would argue that leg numbness is the most unsettling compared to numbness affecting the hips and buttocks.

Hallmark Symptoms of Sciatica

Along with the unsettling feeling of numbness in their legs, individuals who develop sciatica often also report the following symptoms:

  • Tingling or muscle weakness in the affected legs or feet
  • Pain radiating from the lumbar spine
  • Pain in the buttocks, legs, and feet
  • A jolting or electric-like shock sensation along the sciatic nerve pathway

In addition to these symptoms, some individuals might encounter severe complications due to their struggles with sciatica, the most common being muscle weakness and loss of bowel or bladder function.

Treating Back Pain and Leg Numbness

If you’re among the millions of Americans who struggle with back pain and leg numbness, there is some good news in that allowing the body time to rest and heal can lead to both issues resolving themselves within just a few weeks.

According to a study published by the National Institutes of Health, spinal manipulation can relieve back pain and leg numbness in as little as 4 to 6 weeks. When it comes to traditional medicine, on the other hand, over-over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen, can relieve back pain and leg numbness in as little as 30 to 45 minutes. And prescription-based drugs, such as Hydrocodone, Tramadol, and Morphine, for example, can sometimes work even faster.

Lifestyle Habits That Can Help Keep Back Pain and Leg Numbness at Bay

Adopting just a few healthy lifestyle habits can go a long way toward Keeping Back Pain and Leg Numbness at Bay. Some of the ones recommended by physicians the most include the following:

Quitting smoking – If you’re a smoker, you have yet another reason to finally break your habit. Along with increasing the risk of developing lung cancer and suffering a stroke, smoking can cause back pain. And for some people, the pain can be excruciating. For reference, a study published by the National Institutes of Health revealed that an estimated 33 and 36 percent of former and current smokers, respectively, struggle with back pain. Essentially, the smoke from cigarettes and cigars can restrict blood flow to spinal disks in the back. For those not aware, spinal disks are the rubbery pads between vertebrae that help absorb the pressure that would otherwise be put on the spine and, in turn, cause back pain.

Exercising Regularly – According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, exercising for 150 minutes each week can significantly lower the risk of developing osteoporosis, which, by the way, is known to trigger not only back pain but also leg numbness.

Maintaining proper posture – Maintaining good posture can go a long way toward keeping back pain and leg numbness at bay. Some of the best ways to go about doing so include not slouching and making sure your weight is evenly balanced on both feet whenever you’re walking, running, or even just standing still.

Bottom line

In summary, multiple things can cause back pain and associated leg numbness. Fortunately, however, the discomfort that arises from both, if it doesn’t go away on its own, can often be eased or completely alleviated by making a few lifestyle changes, taking prescription or over-the-counter pain relievers, or a combination of the three.

Author

 Yash Batra

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