Back Pain and Medical Marijuana

What is Back Pain?

Back pain or lumbago is a medical condition that originates from bones, muscles, nerves, and/or other spinal structures. 

Back pain is acute or can be chronic in nature.  Typical symptoms include pain, tingling, numbness, radiating arms or leg  pain, deceased range of motion, and spasm.  Patients describe achy dull pain to sharp stabbing pain and sometimes burning sensations.  Back pain is one of the most common chief complainnts in the United States

Back pain is one of humanity’s most frequent complaints. Approximately 90% of Americans will experience some sort of back in their life, and 50% of working population have back pain symptoms every year.  Lower back pain is a very common reason for missed work days in the United States and is the main cause of human disability in the world.  

The human spin is very complex, multi-faceted network of joints, nerves, tendons, muscles, and ligaments.  Each of these structures can be a cause of pain.  Due to the fact that the large to extend to arms and legs originate from nerve bodies in the the spin, radiating pain is frequently a common complaint.  

What is the classification of back pain?

Back pain is separated by anatomic location:  cervical (neck) pain, thoracic (upper back), middle thoracic (middle back), lumbar (lower back) pain, tailbone pain.

Back pain is also classified by duration, namely acute back pain – up to 12 weeks, chronic back pain – greater than 12 weeks, or subacute – 6-12 weeks.  

Cause of Back Pain:

-nonspecific back pain – unknown etiology, could be due to muscle, tendons, ligaments, and/or fascia

-back pain with radiculopathy or spinal stenosis- major cause of radiating pain, usually to one of both lower extremities, numbness/tingling

-back pain secondary to another condition –  cancer, benign masses, inflammatory conditions 


When Does Back Need Treatment?

Usually medical treatment is not immediately needed.  Most cases of back pain is not progressive and resolves on its own.  Generally, the main cause is inflammation and lasts up to 3 months.

There are underlying problems that can present with back pain.  Worrisome conditions / symptoms include:

  • Bowel/ bladder incontinence; worsening lower extremity weakness.
  • Sleep disturbance is always serious
  • Back pain after being involved in a car accident, needs imaging studies to rule out occult fracture
  • Systemic medical conditions such osteoporosis and multiple myeloma can place patients at higher than normal risk of spinal fracture or compression fractures.
  • Back pain and a history of cancer is worrisome for spread or metastasis of the cancer.

Medical Marijuana and Back Pain Treatments

The treatment goals for back pain include effective pain resolution, restoration of function, management side effects, avoid major back/spinal surgery, and manage residual lasting pain.

Some therapies that are found to be effective include:

  • Heat therapy – beneficial for spasm, radiating pain.
  • Medications – muscle relaxers, like flexeril, have been shown to be beneficial on a short term basis.  firs line is NSAIDs are more effective than acetaminophen, but carry significant side effect risks.  Opioids are frequently prescribed by emergency Room physicians, but have not been shown to effective for chronic back from a risk benefit perspective.
  • Massage therapy can be helpful for chronic pain patients.

Medical marijuana is one of the best choice for back pain management.  Marijuana helps patients avoid debilitating and possibly severely dangerous side effects, such cardiovascular issues, gastrointestinal pain, ulcers, and gastrointestinal bleeds with NSAIDs, addiction, tolerance, and dependence with opioid narcotics.  Medical marijuana solves the pain and spasm problems without the severe side effects.  Marijuana has been shown to not only help with pain, but also with relieving spasm, improving sleep, and producing a better mood.

How Medical Marijuana Helps Treat Back Pain?

  • Decreases back pain, spasm
  • Improves range of motion and activities of daily living
  • Reduces the use of addictive and damaging narcotic medications
  • Elevates mood and reduces depression secondary to a medical condition

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