Top 3 Causes & Treatment Options for Nagging Back Stiffness

We often take our spine for granted until it stops functioning properly, causes us pain, limits our mobility and forces us to make adaptations to the way we live. When the back is injured, it impacts every part of daily life. With age, the spinal column sustains “wear and tear” that results in degenerative changes. So it is no surprise that older people commonly have back problems. However, younger patients are also prone to back injury and pain. In fact, more than 80% of all adults experience significant back pain during their life. Whether you’re concerned that your spine may be seriously injured or you are simply uncomfortable due to back stiffness, it is important to get the expertise and care you need to start the healing process.

About the Spine
The spine is made up of vertebrae and discs. The vertebrae are bones and they could be described as 33 donut-shaped protectors for your spinal cord. These bones are stacked on top of one another and are divided into the 5 major sections of the spine. Between each vertebrae, there is a soft, spongy piece of cartilage called a disc. These discs act as cushions, absorbing the shock of movement and protecting the bones from rubbing against one another. In addition to vertebrae and discs, there are numerous muscles, ligaments and nerves that attach to the spine. Understanding the complexity of the spine can help patients understand why there are many potential causes for back pain!

Possible Causes & Treatments for Back Stiffness
Stiffness and pain in the back can be indicators of a wide variety of possible causes and conditions. Below you will find a list of a few of the common culprits behind the symptom of back stiffness.

1. Simple Overactivity or Strain: Similarly to the way that you can experience muscle soreness in your legs when you go out for a run for the first time in months, the muscles of the back can also become strained from too much work or from improper form while lifting.

  • Treatment: Most patients who rest and ice, experience relief from simple muscle soreness within several days. However, if ligaments have been damaged, a longer period of rest and physical therapy may be necessary.

2. Herniated Disc: Just as cartilage in the hips and knees deteriorates over time, the discs between your vertebrae break down with age as well. As discs break down, they sometimes bulge outward from the column, causing Irritation and inflammation that result in pain and back stiffness.

  • Treatment: Most herniated discs can heal on their own with time. To help with pain, a physician may recommend anti-inflammatory medication and/or trigger point injections. If non-surgical options are unsuccessful, the patient may need to undergo a discectomy, where a piece of the herniated disc is actually removed.

3. Spinal Arthritis (Spondylosis): This degenerative condition is basically arthritis of the spine. It happens when, due to age or genetic predisposition, the spine’s position is compromised. Ligaments weaken, vertebrae move out of place, bone spurs and cysts form and the result is chronic back pain.

  • Treatment: Your physician may recommend an adjustment to your normal activities in order to protect your spine. Patients are also sometimes given steroid injections or are put on physical therapy programs to help build strength and maintain range of motion.

At Rothman Orthopaedic Institute, our surgeons are known around the world as leaders in the field of orthopedics and specifically, in the study and care of the spine. When you have concerns about back stiffness and pain, give us a call, set up an appointment and take advantage of having world class physicians right in your own backyard!

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