The low back is referred to as the lumbar spine. The upper back is referred to as the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine does not typically cause symptoms because the rib cage stabilizes the thoracic spine causing less problems with wear and tear over the years. The lumbar spine is much more mobile and wears out much faster and more commonly. There are 12 bones in the thoracic spine (numbered T1 through T12). There are 5 bones in the lumbar spine (numbered L1 through L5).
Many conditions in the lumbar spine can contribute to back pain; degenerative disc disease, annular tears, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, facet arthritis, spondylolisthesis and scoliosis to name a few. When the nerves get pinched by bulging discs or bone spurs you may experience pain in the legs or numbness, tingling or weakness. The first step in your treatment is diagnosing the underlying source of your symptoms. This is often done with x-rays and MRI’s. The x-rays will include one taken while you are flexed forward and one with you extended back. This will help to determine if your bones are shifting relative to one another when you move. This condition is referred to as spondylolisthesis. Additionally, if your symptoms have been present for long enough or are severe enough you will then likely undergo an MRI. MRI’s do not expose you to any radiation. The MRI’s are very sensitive and specific for nerve compression and help us to determine the exact source of your symptoms so that your treatment options are tailored for your specific problem.
A number of different types of treatments are available if you have low back pain, referred to as lumbago. Typical treatments for back pain symptoms are anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, muscle relaxants, physical therapy, tens units, massage, chiropractic care, aquatic therapy, acupuncture, injections, traction and spinal decompression.