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There are many causes of back pain. Some types of back pain are acute (sudden onset) and self-limited, meaning that they will heal by themselves. Some cases are chronic (long lasting). In most chronic cases the precise cause is never clearly defined.
Finding a specific cause of back pain is only possible in a minority of cases because imaging techniques (x-rays, scans, etc.) can only show anatomy, not function or causation. Causes include sports injuries, work related injuries, failed surgery, the aging process, or certain inflammatory types of arthritis. In the rare cases for which an underlying cause can be found, a firm prognosis can be given and treatment can be initiated.
Because there are many causes of back pain, and because few of them are curative, there are many forms of treatment. Treatments include anti-inflammatory medications, muscle relaxants, physical therapy, bracing, and in extreme cases, surgery. In selected cases long term use of analgesics (painkillers), sometimes including opioids, may be indicated. This sort of treatment should only be undertaken with the guidance of a qualified professional.
Many cases of chronic back pain of uncertain etiology respond to injections of anesthetics and small amounts of steroids (cortisone). The small amounts of cortisone used do not cause side effects.
Back pain is an important symptom that should not be ignored since it can occasionally indicate a serious underlying disorder. The diagnostic and treatment procedures for each patient vary significantly and should be tailored to the individual.