4 Reasons You May Have Back Pain on Only One Side

Article featured on Penn Medicine

The pain may come on suddenly, as a sharp stitch on the left side of your back. Or it may throb to life on your right side, growing slowly worse each day. No matter its exact location, though, one thing is sure: Back pain isn’t fun—but it’s a familiar foe.

Some 80% of the population in the U.S. will have a back problem in their lifetime, and Americans spend upwards of $50 billion a year treating it, according to the American Chiropractic Association.

That pain can radiate from the bones, joints, ligaments, muscles, or a combination of sources. Lifestyle plays its part in back pain, too. Everything from sports injuries and poor posture to obesity and psychological stress can contribute to back pain.

When the pain is isolated to one side, though, you may wonder what exactly is going on. The pain could represent something minor from which your body will heal itself, or it could indicate a more serious condition.

One-sided back pain is a fairly common issue,” says Bradley Tucker, MD, a Penn Medicine Physician and Assistant Professor of Clinical Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Read on to learn symptoms to watch for and what back pain on one side may mean. Penn Medicine offers an online assessment test to help you learn when it is time to see a doctor for your back and neck pain.

Tissue Injuries

Injuries to the spinal structures can happen in the muscles, discs, or joints, and make up the most common cause of back pain on just one side. They often occur after minor injuries or from an impact in sports or a car accident.

Tissue injuries typically cause pain central to the spine, but they can lead to pain entirely on either the right side or the left side of the back. And of tissue injuries overall, muscle strains are the most common cause of lower back pain on one side.

Poor posture is another possible culprit for this type of one-sided back pain, according to Dr. Tucker. “Typically when you sit, everything should be at a 90 degree angle: knees, ankles, hips, and elbows,” he explains.

Muscle Strain Symptoms Include:

  • Limited range in motion
  • Tenderness or swelling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain the improves with rest, ice or NSAIDs
  • Pain that worsens after sitting or getting out of bed

Bone Issues

Arthritis, bone spurs, or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal column) also all may cause pain on one side of the back. The pain may radiate down the leg or cause weakness. For instance, Dr. Tucker says, “If someone has right hip pain from arthritis, they may walk in a way meant to prevent falling and minimize hip irritation. But then they might have left-side back pain as a result.

He adds that this compensation might not be something your body does consciously. “It’s just the body protecting itself from worsening pain, which causes muscles and other joints to be overused or over-fatigued,” he says.

Your treatment options depend on how badly the issue interrupts your daily life: walking, sitting, and other activities you enjoy. Your physician will discuss your optimal treatment options based on the severity of your symptoms.

Treatments may include pain medication and hot/cold packs. They may also range from physical therapy to surgery. Keep in mind that while frustrating, finding the right treatment that works for your specific back pain will likely take time, trial, and error.

Internal Organ Problems

Though you may not think of them at first, pain on the right side or left side of your back may actually come from the organs in your mid-back, abdominal, or pelvic area. That pain may signify infection, inflammation, or irritation, and the potential affected organs include:

  • Kidneys
  • Pancreas
  • Colon
  • Uterus

There are a lot of one-sided issues you could have from pelvic or abdominal structures, but it’s not the typical back pain people think of,” says Dr. Tucker. “For instance, kidney stone pain tends to radiate from the flank down to the groin.

Your kidneys live toward your lower back and can cause pain if infected. However, if you’re experiencing kidney stones or a kidney infection, you’ll likely have other symptoms, too, including pain when urinating, nausea, or fever.

Chronic inflammation of the large intestine, called ulcerative colitis, can also cause back pain—along with abdominal cramping, digestive issues, weight loss, and fatigue, as well. And in women, pelvic pain from endometriosis or fibroids can radiate into the lower right back. This pain often comes with other issues, too, including abnormal menstruation, frequent urination, and pain during intercourse.

Emergency Symptoms

Nobody wants to rush to the Emergency Room over back pain, but it’s important to take right-side or left-side back pain seriously. Go to the emergency room if your back pain is severe or if you believe it could be an emergency, such as a serious health problem or injury.

You’ll also want to recognize if it’s happening in conjunction with other symptoms, such as spinal tenderness, swelling, or bowel or bladder problems.

One such issue is a serious nerve condition called cauda equina syndrome, which involves nerve compression at the end of the spinal cord. “Usually, symptoms include numbness around the groin, significant leg pain, loss of bowel/bladder control, and paralysis,” explains Dr. Tucker.

But emergency symptoms that cause back pain don’t necessarily have to do specifically with the back. An abdominal aortic aneurysm causes the abdominal aorta to balloon and, in some cases, rupture. If the aneurysm ruptures, there is often associated sudden and severe abdominal or chest pain radiating to one side of the back. It’s important to familiarize yourself with emergency symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect you may be having an issue.

In general, remember: It’s better to be overly cautious when dealing with back pain on your right or left side, especially if the pain interrupts your daily life or comes on suddenly and doesn’t go away with rest or medication.

Talk with your doctor or go to an emergency room to solve exactly what’s going on behind your back.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

Why is my sciatica not going away?

Article featured on MedicalNewsToday and medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, Ph.D., R.N., CRNA — Written by Zawn Villines on October 23, 2020

Sciatica is a type of nerve pain that radiates down the back into the hip and leg. It often goes away in a few weeks, but for some people, the condition is chronic.

The pain can feel like an intense cramp or burning electrical sensations.

Sciatica that lasts more than 3 months or that goes away and comes back may be chronic sciatica.

Chronic sciatica is a long-term condition that can cause ongoing pain. It is more difficult to treat than acute (short-term) sciatica, but several remedies can offer relief.

This article reviews what sciatica is, what causes it, and how to treat it.

Why is my sciatica not going away?

Sciatica happens when something presses on or traps the sciatic nerve.

The most common cause is a herniated disk in the lower spine.

Another risk factor is spinal stenosis, a condition that causes the spinal column to narrow.

Herniated disk

Doctors do not know why some cases of sciatica become chronic. Many acute and chronic cases happen because of a herniated disk. In most cases, herniated disks improve on their own within a few weeks. When they do not, this may cause chronic pain.

Injury

People with herniated disks often remember a specific injury that triggered the pain. An injury does not mean that the pain will be chronic. However, people who have a herniated disk from an injury may develop the same injury again, especially if they continue repeating the movements that led to it.

Inflammation

Inflammatory conditions can trap spinal nerves, causing sciatic pain. People with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may notice that their sciatica flares when their condition gets worse. Treating the underlying condition may help treat the sciatica.

Infection

An infection in or around the spine can cause an abscess, which is a swollen and infected mass. This abscess can trap spinal nerves, causing sciatica and, sometimes, other symptoms. A person with an abscess may develop a fever, have pain in other areas of the body, or find that sciatica begins after they have another infection.

Spinal mass or cancer

Any type of mass in or near the spine may trap spinal nerves, causing sciatic pain. Some masses are cancerous. In other cases, an epidural hematoma, which is a swollen blood spot near the spine, can cause the pain. It is important that people with sciatica see a doctor to rule out potentially dangerous conditions such as cancer, especially when sciatica does not go away.

Wear and tear

As a person ages, the normal wear and tear on their spine can cause the spinal column to narrow, resulting in spinal stenosis. For some people, spinal stenosis causes chronic or worsening pain.

Lifestyle issues

Several lifestyle factors may increase the risk of sciatic pain or extend the healing time. People with these risk factors may find that sciatica becomes chronic or recurs. Risk factors for sciatica include:

  • little physical activity and prolonged sitting
  • having overweight or obesity
  • smoking

As sciatica often follows an injury, people may also find that the symptoms do not improve if they continue the activity that caused the original injury.

Tuberculosis

Sacroiliac joint tuberculosis, which doctors call tuberculous sacroiliitis, is a rare form of tuberculosis (TB), a lung infection. It happens when the infection creates an abscess that spreads to the sacroiliac joint in the pelvis and lower spine. A person may also have symptoms of TB, such as breathing problems or coughing. TB is a very rare cause of sciatica, but if symptoms persist, and a person has a history of exposure to TB, testing is important.

Spinal misalignment

When the spine is not properly aligned, such as when a person has scoliosis or another chronic condition, it can put pressure on the space between the vertebrae. This pressure may cause herniated disks. It can also compress the sciatic nerve, causing nerve pain. Depending on the cause, a person may need surgery, physical therapy, or other treatments.

Will my sciatica come back?

Sciatica can and does come back, especially when a person has a chronic medical condition.

People who do not make lifestyle changes to prevent more sciatic pain may also redevelop symptoms. However, for most people, sciatica heals on its own within a month or two.

Exercises for sciatica

Exercise can help ease the sciatic pain. The following exercises might help a person with sciatica:

  • Aerobic exercise promotes fitness and can help a person reach and maintain a moderate body weight. Try low impact exercises, such as swimming or walking.
  • Stretch the hip flexors by standing straight in front of a chair. Bend the knee to a 90-degree angle and put the foot on the chair. Lean forward to stretch for 30 seconds.
  • Kneel with the buttocks resting on the heels, then put the chest to the ground with the arms elevated straight above the head and flat on the ground. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • Lie on the back and bring the knees to the chest. Hold for 30 seconds. Some people find additional relief by rocking from side to side in this position.
  • Lie on the back, with the knees bent and the feet flat on the floor. Lift alternating legs up, as if marching, for 30–60 seconds.

Other symptoms of sciatica

The most common symptoms of sciatica include:

  • electrical sensations along the side of one leg
  • pain that radiates from the lower back to the hip and down the leg
  • intense leg cramps
  • pain when walking or moving
  • numbness in the legs, hips, or lower back
  • pain when sneezing or coughing

When to see a doctor

Sciatica usually goes away on its own, with or without treatment.

A doctor can diagnose the cause of sciatica and may prescribe treatment to speed healing.

However, sciatica is not a medical emergency, and it is fine to wait to see whether the symptoms resolve on their own before visiting a doctor.

It is advisable to see a doctor if:

  • sciatic pain interferes with daily functioning
  • sciatica lasts longer than 3 months
  • sciatica goes away and then comes back
  • the pain is unbearable or gets steadily worse

New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

What is Spinal Fusion?

From WebMD

Spinal fusion is surgery to join two or more vertebrae into one single structure. The goal is to stop movement between the two bones and prevent back pain. Once they’re fused, they no longer move like they used to. This keeps you from stretching nearby nerves, ligaments, and muscles that may have caused discomfort.

Spinal fusion involves techniques designed to mimic the normal healing process of broken bones. During spinal fusion, your surgeon places bone or a bonelike material within the space between two spinal vertebrae. Metal plates, screws and rods may be used to hold the vertebrae together, so they can heal into one solid unit.

Why it’s done

Spinal fusion permanently connects two or more vertebrae in your spine to improve stability, correct a deformity or reduce pain. Your doctor may recommend spinal fusion to treat:

  • Deformities of the spine. Spinal fusion can help correct spinal deformities, such as a sideways curvature of the spine (scoliosis).
  • Spinal weakness or instability. Your spine may become unstable if there’s abnormal or excessive motion between two vertebrae. This is a common side effect of severe arthritis in the spine. Spinal fusion can be used to restore spinal stability in such cases.
  • Herniated disk. Spinal fusion may be used to stabilize the spine after removal of a damaged (herniated) disk.

Who Needs Spinal Fusion?

 

If medicines, physical therapy, and other treatments (like steroid injections) haven’t helped your back pain, this surgery might be an option. Doctors usually only recommend it if they know exactly what’s causing the problem.

Spinal fusion might help you feel better if your back pain is caused by:

  • Degenerative disk disease (the space between disks narrows; sometimes they rub together spaces)
  • Fracture (broken spinal bone)
  • Scoliosis — your spine curves abnormally to one side
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)
  • Spondylolisthesis (forward shifting of a spinal disk)
  • Tumors or spine infection

 

How to Prepare

 

The week before your surgery, you may have some blood tests and spinal X-rays if you haven’t had any recently.

Your health care team will go over the details of your procedure. Don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t understand something. Your surgeon wants you to be prepared.

Here are some things to think about in the days prior to your surgery:

  • Know when to arrive at the surgery center. You’ll need someone to drive you and take you home.
  • Get a list of the medicines you can or can’t take in the days before surgery. Some drugs, like aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drugs, may be unsafe. Never stop taking any medicines without your doctor’s OK.
  • Find out if you can eat or drink anything before your procedure.
  • Get your home ready. You’ll need raised toilet seats, shower chairs, slip-on shoes, reachers, and other aids.

 

What you can expect

During spinal fusion

Surgeons perform spinal fusion while you’re under general anesthesia so you’re unconscious during the procedure. Surgeons have developed a variety of techniques for performing spinal fusion surgery. The technique your surgeon uses depends on the location of the vertebrae to be fused, the reason for the spinal fusion, and in some instances, your general health and body shape.

Generally, the procedure involves the following:

  • Incision. To gain access to the vertebrae being fused, the surgeon makes an incision in one of three locations: in your neck or back directly over your spine, on either side of your spine, or in your abdomen or throat so that your surgeon can access the spine from the front.
  • Bone graft preparation. The bone grafts that actually fuse two vertebrae together may come from a bone bank or from your own body, usually from your pelvis. If your own bone is used, the surgeon makes an incision above your pelvic bone, removes a small portion of it and then closes the incision.
  • Fusion. To fuse the vertebrae together permanently, the surgeon places the bone graft material between the vertebrae. Metal plates, screws or rods may be used to help hold the vertebrae together while the bone graft heals.

In selected cases, some surgeons use a synthetic substance instead of bone grafts. These synthetic substances help promote bone growth and speed the fusion of the vertebrae.

After spinal fusion

A hospital stay of two to three days is usually required following spinal fusion. Depending on the location and extent of your surgery, you may experience some pain and discomfort but the pain can usually be controlled well with medications.

After you go home, contact your doctor if you exhibit signs of infection, such as:

  • Redness, tenderness or swelling
  • Wound drainage
  • Shaking chills
  • Fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C)

It may take several months for the affected bones in your spine to heal and fuse together. Your doctor may recommend that you wear a brace for a time to keep your spine aligned correctly. Physical therapy can teach you how to move, sit, stand and walk in a manner that keeps your spine properly aligned.

Results

Spinal fusion is typically an effective treatment for fractures, deformities or instability in the spine. But study results are more mixed when the cause of the back or neck pain is unclear. In many cases, spinal fusion is no more effective than nonsurgical treatments for nonspecific back pain.

It can be difficult to be certain about what exactly is causing your back pain, even if a herniated disk or bone spurs show up on your X-rays. Many people have X-ray evidence of back issues that have never caused them any pain. So your pain might not be associated with whatever problem has been revealed on your imaging scans.

Even when spinal fusion provides symptom relief, it does not prevent you from developing more back pain in the future. Most of the degenerative conditions in the spine are caused by arthritis, and surgery will not cure your body of that disease.

Immobilizing a section of your spine places additional stress and strain on the areas around the fused portion. This may increase the rate at which those areas of your spine degenerate — so you may need additional spinal surgery in the future.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.

What Causes Spinal Stenosis?

From WebMD

Cervical Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition, mostly in adults 50 and older, in which your spinal canal starts to narrow. This can cause pain and other problems.

Your spine is made up of a series of connected bones (or “vertebrae”) and shock-absorbing discs. It protects your spinal cord, a key part of the central nervous system that connects the brain to the body. The cord rests in the canal formed by your vertebrae.

For most people, the stenosis results from changes because of arthritis. The spinal canal may narrow. The open spaces between the vertebrae may start to get smaller. The tightness can pinch the spinal cord or the nerves around it, causing pain, tingling, or numbness in your legs, arms, or torso.

There’s no cure, but there are a variety of nonsurgical treatments and exercises to keep the pain at bay. Most people with spinal stenosis live normal lives. 

Causes

The leading reason for spinal stenosis is arthritis, a condition caused by the breakdown of cartilage — the cushiony material between your bones — and the growth of bone tissue.

Osteoarthritis can lead to disc changes, a thickening of the ligaments of the spine, and bone spurs. This can put pressure on your spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Other causes include:

  • Herniated discs. If the cushions are cracked, material can seep out and press on your spinal cord or nerves.
  • Injuries. An accident may fracture or inflame part of your spine.
  • Tumors. If cancerous growths touch the spinal cord, you may get stenosis.
  • Paget’s disease. With this condition, your bones grow abnormally large and brittle. The result is a narrowing of the spinal canal and nerve problems.

Some people are born with spinal stenosis or diseases that lead to it. For them, the condition usually starts to cause problems between the ages of 30 and 50.

 

Symptoms

Spinal stenosis usually affects your neck or lower back. Not everyone has symptoms, but if you do, they tend to be the same: stiffness, numbness, and back pain.

More specific symptoms include:

  • Sciatica. These shooting pains down your leg start as an ache in the lower back or buttocks.
  • Foot drop. Painful leg weakness may cause you to “slap” your foot on the ground.
  • A hard time standing or walking. When you’re upright, it tends to compress the vertebrae, causing pain.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control. In extreme cases, it weakens the nerves to the bladder or bowel.

If you’re having symptoms, you might want to talk them over with your doctor. If you’re having a loss of bladder or bowel control, call your doctor at once.

Diagnosis and Tests

When you visit your doctor, she’s likely to ask you questions about your medical history. After that, she might order at least one of the following tests to figure out whether you have the condition:

  • X-rays. These can show how the shape of your vertebrae has changed.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI). By using radio waves, an MRI creates a 3-D image of your spine. It can show tumors, growths, and even damage to discs and ligaments.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan). A CT scan uses X-rays to create a 3-D image. With the help of a dye injected into your body, it can show damage to soft tissue as well as issues with your bones.

Treatment

Your doctor may start off with nonsurgical treatments. These might include:

Medication: Common pain remedies such as aspirin, acetaminophen , ibuprofen, and naproxen can offer short-term relief. All are available in low doses without a prescription. Other medications, including muscle relaxants and anti-seizure medications, treat aspects of spinal stenosis, such as muscle spasms and damaged nerves.

Corticosteroid injections: Your doctor will inject a steroid such as prednisone into your back or neck. Steroids make inflammation go down. However, because of side effects, they are used sparingly.Anesthetics: Used with precision, an injection of a “nerve block” can stop pain for a time

Exercise: You can improve your flexibility, strength, and balance with regular activity. Your doctor may recommend a physical therapist to help you.Assistive devices: You might get braces, a corset, or a walker to help you move about. 

Surgery

Some people have severe cases. They struggle to walk or have issues with their bladder and bowel. Doctors may recommend surgery for these people. Procedures such as laminectomy and laminoplasty create space between the bones so inflammation can go down.

What You Can Do at Home

Some things you can do to help ease symptoms of spinal stenosis include:

  • Exercise. Think about moderation — not 100 push-ups. Just take a 30-minute walk every other day. Talk over any new exercise plan with your doctor.
  • Apply heat and cold. Heat loosens up your muscles. Cold helps heal inflammation. Use one or the other on your neck or lower back. Hot showers are also good.
  • Practice good posture. Stand up straight, sit on a supportive chair, and sleep on a firm mattress. And when you lift heavy objects, bend from your knees, not your back.
  • Lose weight. When you are heavier, there will be more pressure on your back.

 


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopaedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopaedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopaedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.