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Back Health: Understanding back sprains, soft-tissue injuries, bulging discs and herniated discs

Oh my aching back!

I don’t know a single person who hasn’t uttered that phrase at some point in life.

So you know that a back injury can be extremely painful. It can happen – snap your fingers – just like that. And when you injure your back, it can stop you in your tracks – prevent you from working, limit your movements, make sleep difficult, make walking difficult, make surviving daily life difficult.

In the first installment of the Deuterman Law Group’s Back Health series, we talked about the anatomy of the spine and the types of pain you might experience as the result of a back injury.

Today, we’re focusing on the most common types of back injuries — sprains, soft-tissue injuries, bulging discs and herniated discs – and the typical course of treatment for each.

Lumbar Sprain, low-back pain or lumbrosacral soft tissue injury

These terms all refer to injuries to the muscles, ligaments and tendons. Most often your doctor will refer to this type of injury as a sprain or strain.


Typically these injuries are caused by damaged muscles, tendons or ligaments perhaps from over stretching or sudden movements. (This explains all those back injuries that people suffer doing everyday chores, like unplugging the vacuum cleaner.)


The healing process can last for many weeks and the pain can be quite intense from the inflamed tissues. Generally, surgery isn’t recommended for this type of back injury and treatment consists of anti-inflammatory medicines and, of course, rest.


Disc bulge, disc herniation and annular tear

All of these diagnoses refer to injuries to the vertebrae — the smaller bones that make up the spine — and discs — the softer tissue that cushions the vertebrae.


These conditions are similar in that the soft tissue of the disc has extended beyond where it’s supposed to be. When the protective wall that surrounds the disc is torn or weakened, the tissue extends too far. For more on bulging discs and herniated discs, visit the Spine Health Web site.


The extended tissue can cause overcrowding, inflammation and compression of the nerves, which results in pain that may potentially spread to the legs.


Surgery is not always recommended for treatment because most patients respond well to anti-inflammatory medicines and physical therapy.


However procedures such as laminectomy or discetomy (which will be discussed in detail in a later blog) may be recommended to relieve patients of pain.



This is basically arthritis of your spine.

Most people think of arthritis affects only the hands and knees, but arthritis can affect the vertebrae of your spine as well.


Common symptoms of spondylosis tend to be stiffness, not having a full range of motion, difficulty in walking or bending, weakness, numbness or even tingling.


Most people who suffer from spondylosis respond well to non-surgical treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication, physical therapy or chiropractic treatments. However,  sometimes if the pain is intense, corticosteroids, a powerful anti-inflammatory medicine, are injected into the spine.



This condition occurs when one of your vertebrae, which are normally aligned, slips out of alignment with the vertebrae below it.


There are different categories of spondylolthesis, graded on a scale of 1-5. depending on how and when the slippage occurred and the severity of the slippage,


You may not have any symptoms at all or you may feel pain in your lower back, thighs or legs; tightness in your hamstring; or difficulty with bladder control.


Some people may notice a change in their appearance such as a shorter looking torso or a swayback.


Treatments vary with each category and whether the vertebrae are continuing to slip or not.


If the vertebrae have stopped moving forward, then usually anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and possibly a back brace will help relieve the pain.  Physicians also may recommend bed rest or refraining from heavy lifting, twisting, or sports.

Remember, talking with your physician about your symptoms, diagnosis and treatment is the best source of information in managing your back pain.

But there are many resources on the Web that offer more information about spinal injuries and pain. Check out: SpineUniverse or the Southeastern Spine Institute for additional information and illustrations on spine health.

As always, please remember, this information is for educational purposes only. If you are suffering from back pain, please consult a doctor. Do not try to treat yourself.


Coming next: we’ll look at the most common surgeries used in the treatment of back pain. 



2 Responses to Back Health: Understanding back sprains, soft-tissue injuries, bulging discs and herniated discs

  1. Dr. Don says:

    I have been treating chronic back pain patients since 1979 and the salient feature we have found common to most back pain patients is weakness of the lumbo-pelvic core muscles. If the muscles are weak, then the patient is pre-disposed to developing all of the conditions mentioned in your article.
    What patients need is proper advice, therapy and a proven Rehab Program that they can do to help themselves.
    Back pain will get worse unless there is a concerted effort by governments, Doctors and Therapists to educate and prevent this condition.
    What we are seeing are children as young as 6-8 years old with back pain because of sitting and computer use. Sitting and lack of exercise begins the process of weakening the back muscles and pre-disposing the childern to back pain.

  2. Back Pain says:

    Thanks for informing us on the causes of back pain.Great information.

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