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Your Aching Back: Finding the Cause of Chronic Pain


By Becky Wiese

The straw that broke the camel’s back. Like water off a duck’s back. Oh, my aching back.

Backs are designed to withstand quite a lot of stress. Structurally speaking, our spine (backbone) provides structure, enabling us to move. Every twist, bend, and nod we make with our body is dependent on the parts of the spine working together. Starting at the base of the skull and ending at the tailbone, the 33 vertebrae and spongy discs that separate and cushion them enable us to move by infinitesimal degrees rather than being, well, stiff as a board.

In addition to the structural purpose, our spine also provides a protected passageway for our spinal cord, which is the bundle of nerves that serves as the superhighway of information from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. A vast network of nerves constantly sends information along this superhighway, enabling us to move, feel, and survive.

Given the importance of the spine, it’s easy to understand why back pain can be so debilitating. Back pain can be caused by a variety of reasons. Muscular aches and pains often arise from overexertion or repetitive motion and often can be treated with over-the-counter medication, a few days of rest, and application of ice and heat. Although most people are likely to have some kind of back pain in their life, the majority of issues will resolve on their own by using these methods.

Structural issues, such as damage or stress to the spine itself, also cause significant amounts of back pain. Degeneration of joints, disc problems, stress damage, scar tissue buildup from previous back surgery, or trauma injuries to the back present an entirely different set of circumstances, and typically cause chronic back problems that no amount of home-based treatments alleviate.

Finding out just what exactly the cause that is producing these painful effects in patients is what Dr. Ben Taimoorazy of Guardian Headache and Pain Management Institute does. A variety of interventional spine procedures can alleviate a patient’s pain, but first he must determine what is causing the pain. “Back pain is common in younger patients due to their work, such as a labor-intensive job, or their physical activities, such as sports or extreme hobbies,” he says. “Older patients often suffer pain due to degeneration and deterioration due to their age.”

The type of pain provides another clue. “The discs between the vertebrae in the spine contain water, and as we age, the amount of water decreases, leading to fracturing of the disc, which causes localized pain when radial tears form in and around the nerves in the disc wall. However, a bulging (herniated) disc, in which the nucleus of the disc itself pushes through the outer wall and presses against the nerve, often causes pain, numbness, or tingling that radiates down the entire nerve — into the legs or shoulders and arms, depending on where the bulge is located.”

Another common source of back pain is caused by damage to the facet joints — where each vertebra connects with the vertebrae above and below it. These joints can become stressed or damaged, and the cartilage that covers the joints to allow movement wears away, allowing the joints to become swollen and eventually rub against each other, forming bone spurs.

All of these conditions can cause irritation and inflammation, which causes pain. “The pain can be similar, so it’s very important to narrow down the specific cause through examination,” explains Dr. Taimoorazy. Otherwise, the patient could experience more back pain from a treatment that not only does not address their problem, but could also exacerbate it. 

“The nervous system is plastic — it remembers pain,” says Dr. Taimoorazy. When neurons transmit pain signals to the brain, the surrounding neurons join in and new ‘pain’ pathways are formed. It becomes a vicious, and often chronic, problem.” His goal is to diagnose the cause of his patients’ pain and intervene, so that the transmission of pain signals is vastly reduced or eliminated altogether.

So, instead of pain breaking the camel’s back, it could roll like water off a duck’s back —the result of which is no more aching back.

For more information, you may contact Dr. Benjamin Taimoorazy at Guardian Headache & Pain Management Institute, 309-808-1700, The practice is located at 2203 Eastland Drive, Suite #7, in Bloomington. Dr. Taimoorazy strives to increase awareness and understanding of different types of headaches and other chronic painful conditions, and the available diagnostic and therapeutic options for each individual disorder.