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Orthopedics
Porter Orthopedics provides leading orthopedic care in Middlebury, along with resources and access to The UVM Health Network. Meet our orthopedic providers and learn more about the services they offer.

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Many people experience at least minor back pain at some point in their lives. Pain can be the result of overuse, injury, or even basic activities like yard work or lifting something heavy if the activities are not done often. Severe or ongoing pain can interfere with the ability to work or participate in favorite activities.

General knowledge of the structure of the back can help you better understand your back pain. The spine is made up of the vertebrae (the many individual bones and joints of the spine), the muscles and ligaments that connect the vertebrae, and discs that absorb shock by separating the vertebrae when you move. Back pain can occur anywhere along the vertebrae, from the neck down to the tailbone or coccyx.

The cause of back pain is often unknown, but pain could be caused by:

  • Improper movements while lifting, standing, or even sitting or sleeping
  • An injury such as a strain or sprain
  • A fall or accident
  • Aging
  • A herniated disc
  • Arthritis
  • Compression fractures
  • Illness
  • A spinal problem present at birth

Back pain can be localized to one area, like the neck or low back, but could also cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the arms or legs. The pain could be dull and throbbing or sharp. Some people also experience muscle spasms.

Back Pain: Prevention

Back injuries are the most common cause of back pain, but some people are more likely to experience back pain than others. Risk factors include aging, a family history of back pain, osteoporosis, other degenerative diseases, lifting and pulling heavy objects, and a lifestyle or work setting that includes long periods of sitting. 

Poor posture, like slumping or slouching, generally does not cause back pain on its own. If you already have a back injury, poor posture could exacerbate the pain. If you have previously experienced back pain, you can take a number of steps to help keep it from returning:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Get regular, low-impact exercise, like swimming or walking
  • Sleep on your side
  • Maintain good posture, with your ears in line with your shoulders and hips
  • Use good lifting technique and avoid lifting things that are too heavy
  • Make sure your work chair, if you use one regularly, fits and has good back support
  • Talk to your human resources department about accommodations if your work requires a lot of bending, lifting, and reaching. A “back belt” will not protect you from future pain.

Diagnosis and Treatment: Back Pain

Back pain will often improve on its own within one to four weeks. Treatments at home, like over-the-counter pain medication or use of a heating pad or ice pack, can help back pain that was caused by a minor injury. Avoid heavy lifting and activities that make the pain worse, but continue regular activities while your back is healing. Walking is especially good for low back pain.

If your pain persists after two weeks of self-care at home or if your pain is severe, call your doctor. Whatever the level or cause of the back pain, our doctors take the time needed to answer all of your questions and create an individualized plan tailored to each patient. If you seek medical treatment for back pain, a doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, your activities, and your general health. Your doctor will perform a physical exam and will generally be able to recommend treatment, such as a set of strengthening exercises or physical therapy, after the first exam.

Different treatments work better for different patients, and you may need to try a few things before finding the right fit. Often back pain improves with the help of physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation. However, if back pain persists for longer than 6 weeks or your doctor believes the pain is caused by something more serious than muscle pain, they may recommend testing. X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs are sometimes ordered to assess more serious or prolonged back pain.

Get the personalized care you need. Call today to request an appointment at 802-388-3194.