Common Benign Pain Syndromes--Symptoms and Etiology:
1. Non-specific musculoskeletal pain: This is the most common cause of back pain. Patients present with lumbar area pain that does not radiate, is worse with activity, and improves with rest. There may or may not be a clear history of antecedent over use or increased activity. The pain is presumably caused by irritation of the paraspinal muscles, ligaments or vertebral body articulations. However, a precise etiology is difficulty to identify.
2. Radicular Symptoms: Often referred to as "sciatica," this is a pain syndrome caused by irritation of one of the nerve roots as it exits the spinal column. The root can become inflamed as a result of a compromised neuroforamina (e.g. bony osteophyte that limits size of the opening) or a herniated disc (the fibrosis tears, allowing the propulsus to squeeze out and push on the adjacent root). Sometimes, it's not precisely clear what has lead to the irritation. In any case, patient's report a burning/electric shock type pain that starts in the low back, traveling down the buttocks and along the back of the leg, radiating below the knee. The most commonly affected nerve roots are L5 and S1.
3. Spinal Stenosis: Pain starts in the low back and radiates down the buttocks bilaterally, continuing along the backs of both legs. Symptoms are usually worse with walking and improve when the patient bends forward. Patient's may describe that they relieve symptoms by leaning forward on their shopping carts when walking in a super market. This is caused by spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the central canal that holds the spinal cord. The limited amount of space puts pressure on the nerve roots when the patient walks, causing the symptoms (referred to as neurogenic claudication). Spinal stenosis can be congenital or develop over years as a result of djd of the spine. As opposed to true claudication (pain in calfs/lower legs due to arterial insufficiency), pain resolves very quickly when person stops walking and assumes upright position. Also, peripheral pulses should be normal.
4. Mixed symptoms: In some patients, more then one process may co-exist, causing elements of more then one symptom syndrome to co-exist.