What is back pain?
A very common complaint, back pain is one of the primary reasons for most of the office workers to visit a doctor or even take time off from work. It has been observed that 8 of 10 people normally complain of back pain.
The pain can be a dull constant pain, a sudden sharp pain which comes and goes, or a lasting chronic pain. The constant pain can last anywhere between few days, to weeks, to a few months.
In case of chronic lasting pain and continuous sharp stabs of pain which come and go, you need to consult your family doctor or a general physician. Depending on the severity of your condition and effectiveness of the treatment, you may be referred to a chiropractor, an osteopath, a spine specialist, or a physical therapist.
How does back pain occur?
Back pain can be a result of :
- injuries caused by accidents, and fractures to the spine.
- leading a sedentary lifestyle which can result in becoming overweight. Being overweight puts tremendous pressure on the back, especially the spine.
- osteoporosis, a condition characterized by a decrease in the density of bones, causing the bones to become weak and brittle. There are often no symptoms for this disease till the person suffers from a bone fracture.
- different forms of arthritis for example, spinal stenosis which occurs when the spaces in the spine narrow down, putting tremendous pressure on the spine and nerves. This causes acute back pain.
Osteoarthritis, a form of arthritis, which occurs in the lower back is also a factor which causes back pain. It causes inflammation in the bone joints and eventually ends in loss of cartilage between the bone joints.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis in which the vertebrae of the spine fuse together, making the spine stiff from the neck down.
- suffering from emotional distress and prolonged anxiety. When you are under stress, your back muscles contract and tighten up. Prolonged tightening of these muscles can cause the pain.
- sciatica, which is a condition when pain occurs due to irritation caused in the sciatic nerve. The irritation in most cases occurs due to a herniated disk or slipped disc.
- slipped disk or herniated disc, which occurs when the inner gel portion of a disc escapes the surrounding tissue and bulges out of line.
- spinal cord abscess, which occurs due to an infection in the spine. An abscess is full of pus and dead cells and is very painful. This condition can be life-threatening and therefore is considered to be a medical emergency.
Who is prone to back pain?
There is no one specific cause for back pain. Any factor or a number of factors together can cause back pain in adults, and even in children. You may be prone to back pain if you:
- are getting older. Back pain is a common complaint among older people, especially if you are over 40 years of age.
- are leading a sedentary lifestyle can make the back muscles weak leading to back pain.
- are overweight which can lead to back pain especially in the lower back.
- have a family history of back pain and spinal disorders. For example, it is widely believed that degenerative disc disease has a genetic component to it.
- are a smoker. Frequent smoking inhibits blood flow to your back, thus, cutting off nutrition from reaching your back. This makes your back weak.
- are involved in jobs which require you to strain yourself physically, especially the back, such as heavy weightlifting, using a sledgehammer, or which require you to sit or stand in the same position for long hours can cause back pain.
- are pregnant, since there will an excess weight in front of your body.
- generally, have a poor posture. In fact people are often surprised at how often a simple change of posture can provide them relief from pain.
What are the symptoms of back pain? How is back pain diagnosed?
The symptoms of back pain include:
- a dull pain in the back
- stabbing intermittent pains
- lower back pain spreading to the legs
- stiff back
A back pain can be simply diagnosed by most physicians through a physical examination, and by enquiring about the patient’s medical history.
Tests and scans are generally not required.
However, if the back pain is chronic, and the physician suspects some other underlying cause he may prescribe you to under some tests and scans such as:
- Bone Scans
- MRI or CT Scans
- Electromyography or EMG
- Blood Test
What are the complications of back pain?
The complications of back pain can be psychological apart from physical. They include:
- limited mobility
- nerve damage ( if the back pain is due to slipped or herniated disc, this condition can result in shooting pain from back to the legs, known as sciatica)
- depression resulting from limited mobility
- weight gain
What is the treatment for back pain?
Medical Treatments for Back Pain
Depending on the particular condition and its severity, a variety of medical treatments are available for back pain such as:
- chiropractic treatment
- TENS and IDET therapy
- bioelectric therapy
- nerve blocks
- spinal stimulation
Exercising for Back Pain
When experiencing back pain it is natural for people to take to bed and lie down for a couple of hours, or perhaps even days. While giving the back adequate rest is necessary, and your doctor may prescribe it as well, if your condition demands it, at the same time, too much of rest will hinder the healing process.
Exercising will not only help reduce your weight, which will literally take the weight off your back, but specific back exercises will rehabilitate your spine, strengthen your back muscles, increase blood flow to your back, thus providing adequate nutrition to your back and strengthening the discs, ligaments, and joints.
It will be advisable to take the help of a physical therapist to understand which kind of exercises will suit you the most. A therapist will also be able to guide you to do the exercises in a gradual and progressive manner.
Exercises such as aerobics, swimming, bicycling and walking are good for your back.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Back pain the 4th major cause of Years Lived with Disability (YLD)
A global analysis shows that back pain apart from depressive disorder, anaemia, and migraine is a leading cause of Years Lived with Disability (YLDs) in India. In other words people in India are spending more time with ill-health. (YLDs measure the impact of health problems that affect mobility, hearing or vision, or cause pain to a person.)
A common problem
Back pain is very common among adults aged between 35 and 55 years.
Women more prone to back pain than men
One in 10 people (9.4 %) worldwide suffer from low back pain, with women being more susceptible to it.
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