Amazing facts about your spine
Starting from the base of your skull and running till your pelvic region, your spine is more than just a column of bones.
Our vertebral column is critical to our survival.
The spinal column is made of a long line of chunky bones called a vertebra, which fit with each other like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Human beings are just one of the 50,000 species of organisms who naturally possess a spinal column.
These species are collectively known as vertebrates. This curvy structure of human spine makes it an excellent shock-absorber.
Some more fascinating facts about your spine include-
- Human Beings are born with 33 vertebrae. Over course of time, few of these fuse together to form the sacrum and tailbone.
- Your spine is divided into three zones – the upper one called Cervical, the middle one called Thoracic, the lower one called Lumbar. The cervical spine has 7 vertebrae, thoracic has 12, and the lumbar region is composed of 5 vertebrae. Surprisingly, even giraffes have the same number of vertebrae in the cervical (neck) region.
- Your spinal column contains over 120 muscles, 220 individual ligaments, and 100 joints.
- Each vertebral disc is separated from the other by a soft cartilage. Cartilage makes up for 25% of your entire spinal column.
- The spine performs three major functions – supports our body weight, facilitates movement, and houses the spinal cord. The spinal cord is the main communication path between your brain and the rest of your body.
And now for some painful truth
The vertebrae in your neck (cervical region) are collectively called as the Atlas.
Atlas is a character from the Greek mythology who was turned into stone and punished to carry the weight of the Earth on his shoulders.
Very much like our actual neck which carries the weight of the head. Now, when you think about the Atlas, it’s not a very comforting picture.
That is because most of the times we also feel a strain or pressure on our shoulders and spine owing to our lifestyle and posture.
At any given time, 10% of the entire global population experiences back pain. And throughout their entire lives, 80% of the entire human species will suffer from an aching pain.
And these facts are just the tip of the iceberg. There are more shocking truths about your aching back that you should be aware of.
1. The global burden of back pain
The definition of disability is “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s ability to perform tasks, move, or sense things”.
Extensive studies conducted in this field have revealed that Lower Back Pain (LBP) is the leading cause of disability and the 6th leading factor in DALYs (disability-adjusted life years).
In simple words, back pain causes more disability than any other factor.
This makes back pain a public health issue.
2. The statistics of back pain
Your back is one of the most common areas in your body susceptible to pain.
In fact, in many surveys back pain was right in the number one spot of common bodily aches, much ahead of a headache, neck ache, and facial pain. 37% of all the occupational hazards is back pain.
It is the second most common reason for a visit to the doctor (number one being respiratory issues). 25% of all adults experience at least one day of back pain every 3 months.
The expenditure for treating back pain is as high as $ 26 billion per year, and this figure is only for one country, USA. The global expenditure lies somewhere close to $ 100 billion/year.
3. The “Why” of it
Back pain could be acute (less than 6 weeks) or chronic (more than 6 months).
The common non-medical reasons for a backache include – sudden movement or jerk, repeated lifting of heavyweight, and accidents.
Medical conditions which may give rise to an aching back include arthritis, osteoporosis, skeletal abnormalities, and ruptured spinal disks.
4. Spinal discs and nerve-pinching
As mentioned before, the vertebrae are connected to each other by soft structures which facilitate movement and also act as shock absorbers.These are also known spinal discs.
Due to an accident or injury (even old age), these spinal discs get ruptured or damaged.
The resulting condition, known as “slipped disc” or “herniated disc” is one of the major reasons for lower back pain. When the disc starts to bulge and protrude out, it puts an additional strain on the neighboring nerves. This is what we commonly refer to as “nerve-pinching”.
When the ruptured disc pinches the sciatic nerve (the longest nerve in the body), the resulting pain is called sciatic pain or just sciatica.
5. Psychological stress and your back
Anxiety and stress could be the reason why your back hurts more than usual.
It is not uncommon to find these psychological factors changing how your body behaves and reacts. Stress and anxiety could worsen the levels of chronic illnesses in many individuals.
This is because stress and anxiety lead to neurochemical changes. In the same way, your psychological distress might be creating tension in your back and shoulder area.
Studies indicate that anxiety can increase muscular tension. People who are more stressed tend to have more muscular knots on their back. Anxiety could also make one follow incorrect posture, make an individual inactive, and sometimes even increase the sensitivity to pain.
6. Posture and back pain
Posture is the way you position your body or align your different body parts with respect to how you walk, sit, or even sleep.
Having a good posture makes one appear graceful. But there is more to good posture than just the aesthetics. Slouching, too much bending, or sitting without proper support can lead to excessive back pain.
Ours is a generation obsessed with a sedentary lifestyle. On an average, we are sitting for more than 9 hours per day. And that too in wrong postures.
Poor posture has been linked to chronic lower back pain and neck pain in a large proportion of urban demography. Conversely, having a good posture can protect your joints from wear and tear, prevents chronic back pain, and can reverse the complications caused by the sitting disease.
7. Could smoking be a reason too?
Smoking (or rather any form of tobacco consumption) has a direct impact on the flow of blood within our body.
Smoking causes rupture of blood vessels present in the spinal discs and joints.
And according to American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this might be one of the reasons behind the chronic back pain.
Additionally, the harmful chemicals present in cigarettes lead to bone-density loss, cartilage loss, inflammation of spinal joints, and poor transport of oxygen and nutrition via the bloodstream.
These collectively contribute majorly to alarming rates of backache in smokers.
8. Back pain and pregnancy
Pregnancy makes a woman susceptible to a number of ailments, and back pain is one of them.
There are many reasons as to why pregnancy, especially the latter half gives rise to an aching back.
Firstly, an expecting mother gains considerable weight which strains the lower spine. Secondly, the pregnancy bulge limits her movement and leads to postural changes. Thirdly, during pregnancy, your body releases a hormone “relaxin” which tends to loosen up your spine joints.
Additionally, the muscular separation and stress associated with pregnancy often add to the back pain.
9. Birth defects leading to chronic back pain
There are many congenital diseases which result in a persistent backache. Most common amongst these are scoliosis and spina bifida.
Scoliosis is the condition wherein a baby is born with a laterally curved spinal column.
This arises due to the fact that one half of the body is relatively shorter than the other. Spina bifida is a neural tube defect in which the spinal cord in a baby is not completely formed.
In addition to these, many other degenerative diseases could be linked to back pain such as arthritis, IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), and ankylosing spondylitis.
10. These can also lead to back pain…
Kidney stones, kidney infections, hematoma, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, tumors (cancerous or non-cancerous), pelvic infection, pelvic bleeding, Paget’s disease, atherosclerosis.
In addition to these, lack of physical activity and being overweight could also be the reasons.
Certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s disease also have back pain as one of the possible symptoms.
Simple tips to get instant relief from back pain
- Regulate your sleeping schedule. Backache and sleep deprivation form a vicious cycle.
- Exercise regularly. Walking, swimming, dancing- all these provide relief from an aching back.
- Try to find the reason behind your psychological stress. Work towards eliminating it.
- Contrary to popular belief, too much bed rest can worsen your back pain. Get up and move around.
- Maintain the right posture while sitting, standing, and even sleeping.
- Strengthen your core and work on improving your body’s overall flexibility.
- Quit smoking. And every form substance abuse such as alcohol.
- For every 45 minutes, you sit, take a 2 minutes break. Get up, move around, slightly stretch your spine and gently move your neck.
- Refer to a chiropractor or physiotherapist if the pain continues to persist.
- Most important of all- try to remain happy and stress-free. Endorphins (feel-good hormones) protect your body from inflammations and pains.
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