If you’re dealing with back pain, you’re painfully aware of just how often you use your back. Standing up, sitting down, brushing your teeth, laughing, breathing – every little movement has the potential to hurt you.
It’s no way to live. So when back pain sets in, you can’t help but wonder how long you’ll have to live like this. It’s especially tricky if the pain is unfamiliar. Should you “play through the pain”? See a doctor? Take it easy and see what happens?
These are all questions that can be tough to answer. But we’re here to help.
First, let’s talk about the different types of back pain
Knowing how back pain is defined can be helpful in knowing what to do about it. At a high level, most cases of back pain fall into one of two categories: acute or chronic. (You may also hear about subacute back pain, which falls between acute and chronic, though it’s less common.)
Acute back pain: Short-term pain
If your back pain is acute, it probably means your pain came along suddenly. Things like stress, strenuous exercise, an awkward movement or lifting something wrong can all contribute to acute back pain.
Most back pain is diagnosed as acute. With acute back pain, the pain lasts no longer than six weeks. And in most cases, the underlying cause of the pain doesn’t pose a serious or long-term problem.
Chronic back pain: Long-term pain
Chronic back pain, on the other hand, can be serious. Chronic pain is serious because the symptoms are strong enough to impact your health, mobility and quality of life for an extended period of time.
While chronic back pain can come on suddenly, it usually builds gradually and lasts more than six weeks. Chronic back pain can also be recurrent, meaning it’ll go away at times but regularly come back.
What causes chronic back pain? Chronic pain can be triggered by a new injury, but underlying conditions are usually the real cause. Muscle deconditioning (where your back lacks strength and stability) is one of the most common contributors.
Symptoms of back pain
Symptom-wise, acute pain and chronic pain can be very similar. Back pain symptoms can include:
- Shooting, burning or aching pain that doesn’t go away or returns after using home remedies like icing or over-the-counter medications, or massage or physical therapies
- Regular tightness or stiffness, especially after laying, sitting or standing for long periods
- Trouble sleeping
- Lower extremity weakness (numbness or tingling in one or both legs)
So, how do you tell the difference between acute and chronic back pain?
It can be hard to tell the difference between acute back pain and chronic back pain, but timeframe is the biggest indicator.
The most common symptom of acute back pain is a shooting, burning or aching pain that comes on suddenly. With a little time and at-home remedies such as over-the-counter pain relief medications, cold and heat therapy, acute pain can start going away quickly – as soon as two weeks.
But with chronic back pain, your symptoms can come on quickly or build over time, but they last for more than six weeks or are recurrent.
When should you seek treatment for acute or chronic back pain?
Whether you think your back pain is acute or chronic, anytime you’re experiencing pain that lasts longer than two weeks without any improvement in symptoms, we strongly suggest you get the care you need.
If you think you need care right away, you can also go to your nearest orthopedic urgent care location.
If the pain is new or you know you’ve tweaked something, a great place to start is to find a physical therapy location and make an appointment. Our physical therapists will tailor strengthening and mobility exercises to your unique needs, and you can plan on about six visits.
That said, acute back pain will usually heal itself over a few weeks. But chronic pain usually doesn’t get better without medical intervention. Why? While home remedies and short-term back pain treatments are helpful, they provide temporary relief and don’t address those underlying causes of chronic pain.
So, if you’re regularly experiencing signs of chronic back pain, don’t ignore it. While chronic pain is long-lasting, it doesn’t have to be permanent – and you probably don’t need surgery. This is where TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program, formerly known as the Physicians Neck and Back Center (PNBC) spinal strengthening program can help.
How TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program helps you heal your back pain
What many people don’t realize about chronic back pain is that it can often be solved without surgery. Yes, sometimes surgery is the suggestion – but only after non-surgical options have stopped working.
At TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program our spine strengthening program focuses on active physical therapy – which focuses on movement-based activities. This is a proven method for healing chronic back pain – just ask any of the 200,000-plus patients we’ve worked with over the past 30 years.
Through this program, you’ll do an intake with a doctor or physical therapist who specializes in spine care and chronic pain. They’ll work with you to determine the best pain management treatment plan. Then you’ll work one-on-one with a physical therapist.
Most programs are six to 12 weeks long, and your therapy happens at one of our facilities that features state-of-the-art medical exercise equipment. As part of your care, you’ll learn about what chronic pain is and how the brain processes it.
You’ll also focus on body mechanics such as proper lifting, standing and sleeping – all the things that can contribute to back pain but you probably don’t think about. And as you progress, you’ll learn how to continually improve and maintain your back strength on you own – so you can keep back pain at bay long-term.
Want to learn more about TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program? Watch this short video.
Think TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program is right for you? Schedule a consultation appointment.
What back pain signs and symptoms indicate something more serious is going on?
How can you tell when your back pain has gone from nuisance to full-blown emergency? While back pain is extremely common, there are certain symptoms that are not normal and need attention right away.
When you should go to the ER for back pain
If your back pain is accompanied by any of the following symptoms, head to your closest emergency room because you could be dealing with a more serious condition or injury:
- Sudden spike in pain, discomfort, weakness or numbness
- Loss of bladder function
- High fever
- Severe stomach pain
- Unexplainable weight loss
- The pain results from a fall or severe blow to your back
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor so you can determine next steps for managing pain.
Concerned about your back pain symptoms? We can help.
Most back pain goes away on its own. But if your back pain has been lingering for more than two weeks without improvement, it’s been coming and going for some time, or if you’re experiencing any alarming symptoms, don’t delay the care you need. After all, it’s much easier to take care of yourself when you can move without pain.
Think TRIA Neck and Back Strengthening Program may be right for you? Schedule a consultation.
Not ready for an intensive physical therapy program? Start with physical therapy.
Find a physical therapy location
Think you need immediate care? Go to orthopedic urgent care.
Find an orthopedic urgent care