Back pain

Back pain is one of the most common conditions that affect the individual at some point in their life. It is also considered as a leading cause of disability worldwide. Your back pain can be healed with proper body mechanics and home treatment. But, if you experience severe pain, you may have to visit your doctor.

The human back consists of a complex structure of muscles, ligaments, tendons, bones, and discs. Back pain ranges from dull, continuous pain to sharp and severe pain. It can originate from muscles, nerves, bones, joints, or spine. It is estimated that nine out of ten individuals suffer from mild to severe back pain. However, the condition may rarely cause disability.

The problems associated with any component of the back may lead to back pain. The pain may be acute (sudden pain and lasts for less than six weeks) or chronic (lasts for more than three months). The common causes of back pain are listed below:

  • Muscle strain: Repeated lifting of something improperly or lifting too heavy weights may strain the muscles of the back. Constant strain on your back may result in muscle spasms.
  • Structural problems: The structural problems that lead to back pain involve:
    • Ruptured discs – These discs cushions each vertebra present in the spine. If there is a rupture in the disc, then the nerves are pressurized leading to back pain.
    • Bulging discs – The bulged discs apply more pressure on the nerves leading to back pain.
    • Sciatica – The compression of the spinal nerve by the herniated disc may result in lower back pain.
    • Abnormal curvature of the spine – The conditions such as scoliosis and kyphosis involves curve in the spine leading to back pain.
    • Osteoporosis – If the spinal vertebrae become brittle and porous, then it may lead to back pain and it may result in compression fractures.
  • Day-to-day activities: The activities you do in your everyday life such as bending awkwardly, pushing or pulling something, standing for a longer duration, twisting, and overstretching may cause back pain.

The primary symptom of back pain is an ache or persistent pain on your back. The other symptoms include:

  • Muscle pain
  • Shooting or stabbing pain
  • Pain radiating to the buttocks and the legs
  • Limited flexibility of the back

The factors that increase your risk of developing back pain include the following:

  • Age: The risk of back pain increases as you get older, and it is more common in the people of age 30 to 40 years.
  • Physical inactivity: the sedentary lifestyle or physical inactivity makes your bones and muscles rigid leading to pain.
  • Smoking: The habit of smoking prevents enough nutrients reaching from the discs and weakens them. This results in back pain.
  • Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions such as cauda equina syndrome, cancer of the spine, infection of the spine, sleep disorders, shingles, and other infections such as pelvic inflammatory diseases and kidney infections result in back pain.

A prolonged back pain can lead to the following complications:

  • Weight gain: Due to the restriction in the activities and movement in person with back pain, there is an increased risk of weight gain.
  • Disability: Back pain is one common cause of absence at work due to the person’s disability.
  • Nerve damage: Back pain resulted from herniated disc can result in nerve damage. This can lead to numbness of the legs and a severe shooting pain in the back of the legs.
  • Depression: If the back pain lasts for several days, it can lead to the depression of the person due to a disruption in the sleeping, eating patterns, and a loss of motility.

Your doctor diagnoses the back pain by assessing your ability to sit, stand, and walk. A pain assessment is also performed where you will be asked to rate your severity of pain on the scale of zero to ten. This helps your doctor to determine the origin of pain and also the presence of muscle spasms. Sometimes, to rule out other causative factors, your doctor may suggest any of the following tests:

  • X-ray: The X-ray helps to determine the proper alignment of your bones and also the conditions such as arthritis or broken bones.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: The MRI scan is beneficial to obtain more detailed images of the structures in the back. This scan reveals the presence of any herniated disc or other conditions related to muscles, bones, nerves, tendons, and ligaments.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests are performed to determine the presence of any infection that is leading to back pain.

If your doctor suspects bone tumors, osteoporosis, or spinal stenosis, then bone scans and nerve studies are suggested.

In the majority of the individuals, back pain resolves itself without any medical help. Depending on the type, whether acute or chronic back pain, your doctor might prescribe the following:

Medication:

  • Over-the-counter analgesics: Drugs such as acetaminophen and aspirin might relieve acute back pain. If these drugs do not relieve the pain, then your doctor may suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen.
  • Topical analgesics: Certain topical analgesics that include creams and ointments are applied to the skin over the site of pain.
  • Injections: Your doctor may prescribe steroid or anesthetic injections to reduce your pain.
  • Muscle relaxants, anti-depressants, and narcotics may be given in rare conditions.

Surgery:

Your doctor may recommend a surgery only if you suffer from chronic back pain which was not relieved by any other therapy. You may require surgery if you have herniated disk, spinal stenosis, vertebral fractures, or degenerative disk disease.

Complementary and alternative therapy:

Several alternative therapies may resolve your back pain, and those include chiropractic, osteopathy, shiatsu, and acupressure.

  • An osteopath treats and strengthens your musculoskeletal framework with drug-free non-invasive manual medicine.
  • A chiropractor focuses on neuromuscular causes and relieves your back pain.

Back pain is managed or prevented by improving your physical status and keeping your back healthy and strong. The following are the tips to relieve back pain:

  • Performing regular exercise
  • Building the muscle strength and reducing the rigidity of the muscle
  • Maintaining a healthy weight with proper diet
  • Use of proper body mechanics such as maintaining neutral pelvic positions, preferring a seat with lower back support and proper lifting of heavy weights.