Our back is a small area, but there are so many interconnected nerves that run through it that pinpointing the exact cause of pain isn’t always easy. When the pain in your back is ongoing and severe over a long period of time, you could be experiencing something called dorsalgia.
The term dorsalgia comes from the Latin dorsal, meaning back, and algia, meaning pain. Dorsalgia is a collective name given to a group of conditions that produce pain in the muscles, nerves, bones, joints or other structures which are associated with the spinal column of the body.
About five million people in the United States are disabled by back pain and some two and a half million are permanently disabled by back disorders. In fact, at least 10 percent of adults in the United States have dorsalgia at any given time. Understanding dorsalgia may be helpful in determining the cause of your pain and what you can do about it. In this article, I’ll explain what dorsalgia is, what causes it, and how dorsalgia is diagnosed and treated.
What Are the Different Types of Back Pain?
There are six types of dorsalgia that exist, all radiating from a particular site in your spine: cervical, cervicothoracic, thoracic, thoracolumbar, lumbar, and lumbosacral. The pain may also radiate to other parts of the body, especially the upper or lower extremities, depending on the area of pathology in the spine along with numbness and tingling sensation.
This type of dorsalgia occurs in the neck due to an injury or degeneration of the cervical spine causing pain in the neck. If the nerve roots of the cervical spine are affected, then the pain may radiate down the arms and hands and cause numbness and tingling.
This dorsalgia pain only happens when both the cervical and thoracic spine are involved. While the thoracic spine is the second part of the spinal column, it is located between the cervical spine and lumbar spine, so pain often occurs in both regions.
This type of dorsalgia occurs when only the thoracic spine is involved. Since the thoracic spine is one of the least used spinal structures of the body, thoracic dorsalgia is a rare diagnosis.
This category of dorsalgia involves the thoracic and lumbar spine. If you have thoracolumbar dorsalgia, your doctor may diagnose it through upper and lower back pain images. Physicians may also consider lumbago during diagnosis.
This is the most common type of dorsalgia and involves the lumbar spine. The lumbar spine, in your lower back, is one of the most used parts of your spinal structure. Lumbar dorsalgia is often caused by overuse or injury.
This type of dorsalgia occurs when the lumbar spine and the sacral region are involved. If you have lumbosacral dorsalgia, you may feel immediate and shooting pain in your backbone that is triggered by irritation of the posterior spinal artery or sensitive vertebral column innervation.
Symptoms of Dorsalgia
Though there are six types of dorsalgia, the symptoms of this disease are usually common across patients. These include:
- A sharp stinging pain in your back or neck
- A feeling of burning in the affected area
- Difficulty changing your position, like when using stairs
- Back pain and trouble bending down
- Numbness in the arms or legs
As you can see, dorsalgia affects many daily functions. And sadly, there is not always a clear cause of back pain.
Possible Causes of Dorsalgia
Back pain itself is not enough to be assigned the diagnosis of dorsalgia, and you can’t determine it yourself, either. To narrow down the cause of your severe pain to this condition, a specialist will give you a physical examination.
Symptoms of dorsalgia are determined based on an evaluation of things like how you move, including sitting, standing, walking, and lifting your legs. To help your provider in finding a cause of your pain, try to provide a full, detailed explanation of your pain, such as when it begins, what helps alleviate the discomfort, and the type of pain.
Some of the most common causes of dorsalgia are:
- Herniated or bulging discs that are affecting nerves and causing nerve pain
- Chronic stress tightening the muscles in your back and causing aches and pains
- Overuse of the muscles in the back, for example while doing manual labor
- Degenerative Disc Disease, a condition common in people over 50 where the discs of the spinal column began to deteriorate due to wear and tear
Let your doctor know if your back hurts when you move, what types of movements cause the most pain, and if there’s a specific time of the day when it hurts more than others. Your provider will also need to know all of your past medical history, if there’s a family history of back pain, how you’ve been treating your pain at home, and if you’re on any medications. The more information you can provide, the easier your pain will be to diagnose.
Treatment for Different Types of Back Pain
Depending on the intensity and longevity of your dorsalgia, your healthcare provider will likely recommend starting out with conservative treatments like physical therapy, at-home remedies, and medication. If your symptoms are caught in the early stages, physical therapy is effective at relieving the pain and helping to stave off further symptoms.
Physical therapy is a first-line treatment for responding to backache associated with dorsalgia. If your primary healthcare provider determines that you do not have a serious condition, then a physical therapist will likely be able to provide a treatment plan that relieves your pain and helps you perform normal activities.
Some non-invasive procedures, such as acupuncture or electronic stimulation, may also help relax the muscles in the back, increase blood flow, and alleviate pain. In some cases of chronic back pain, physical therapy can be more effective than surgery.
Occasionally, the severity of dorsalgia is so intense that it doesn’t respond to conservative care. If your doctor determines that the condition causing your pain is too severe for treatment, they may recommend a prescription or surgery in order to help the pain.
If your pain is persistent and doesn’t respond to conservative treatments, you may want to talk to your doctor about muscle relaxants. Muscle relaxants have been shown to provide relief for non-specific back pain, especially acute pain.
Surgical options are usually a worst-case scenario. These are necessary and effective, though, when a patient has severe herniated discs, needs a spinal fusion to alleviate pain, or has so much pain that the surgical procedure is the fastest and most efficient way to help the individual return to a good quality of life.
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