Last Updated February 21st, 2019
Overview of back pain
The tedious, backbreaking hours of every day take a heavy toll on the human body. The effects, however, are not always felt instantly.But eventually, when they make their presence felt, they allow not a single moment of respite.The most threatening effect is the “back-pain” a permanent crippler of healthy lives. Studies show that nearly 47% of the adult populace suffer from pain in the back. This does not indicate that children and teens are the spared sections.
The load of their schoolbags and the stress they endure from a young age tell the tale. With the gradually elongating queues outside the osteopathist’s chamber, back pain remains to be the red flag at the moment.
What is a back pain?
Back pain is the clinical condition when the human body experiences mild to excruciating pain in the upper, middle or lower portion of the back. It is mostly felt in the vicinity of the vertebral column.
The pain might start at a very early age and can persist for a longer time, sometimes permanently.
What causes back pain?
With the escalating growth of stress, strain and disturbed physical and mental conditions, pain is believed to be caused due to innumerable external or internal factors.
The possible causes of back pain are listed below-
- This is caused due to the lifting of heavy loads, often beyond one’s capacity. It is often followed by extreme muscle spasm and ligament pain.
- Rupture or dislocation of vertebral discs exerts pressure on the nerve, causing back pain. These dislocated discs can create protrusions (herniated discs) that cause back pain. Sciatic patients might experience a piercing pain traversing from the pelvic girdle till the base of the spine, and feel severe back pain. Sciatic nerve trapped between adjacent bones also causes back pain.
- In arthritic patients, spinal stenosis occurs resulting in narrowing of the region surrounding the spinal cord. This causes pain of critical nature in the back. Another critical case is scoliosis, where abnormal bending of the spine occurs causing the patient to experience back pain owing to stooping posture. In middle-aged or elderly people osteoporosis can make vertebral bones corroded, resulting in acute pain.
- Certain sufferers have Cauda equine syndrome which causes back pain originating from the roots of spinal nerve bundles.
- Spine infection or a spinal tumor (often malignant).
- Few daily activities like rigorous exercise, awkward postures while pushing, pulling or lifting a heavy load, bad sleeping postures, standing or stooping for prolonged periods, driving for hours at a stretch etc cause back pain.
- Very mundane acts like sneezing or coughing can cause sudden seizures leading to back pain.
- Disturbed mental states such as anxiety and depression can play a prime role in back pain.
What are the general signs and symptoms?
The commonly experienced symptoms of back pain are as follows:
- Recurrent pain in the spinal cord area
- Stiffness leading to temporary immobility
- Piercing pain in the region close to the neck
- Muscle seizure causing a stooping posture
- Disturbed sleep due to pain occurring in certain sleeping postures
Types of back pain
Nature of pain varies from one person to another.
It might be felt as a gradually increasing irritation or an abrupt shooting pain. The categories of back pain are discussed below:
Upper back pain: It is also called “Thoracic Back Pain”.
It occurs due to pain in the thoracic vertebrae, located between the base of the neck and topmost part of the lumbar spine.
It is marked by recurrent aching in the upper back and muscle seizures. Due to proximity to the rib cage, heavy inhaling can trigger pain. The upper back becomes very sensitive when touched at this time.
This kind of pain is usually an outcome of heavy load-lifting or accidental twitching. This type of pain can also stem from pain due to sudden twinge in the neck region. An extreme case of pain in upper back occurs due to scoliosis (abnormal bending of the spine).
Lower back pain: Here, the pain usually originates as a radiating pain from the basal portion of the spine. The root of this kind of a pain in many cases is the sacroiliac joint, from where it stems and spreads gradually to the thoracic and lumbar zones. These pains are typically caused due to inflammation of muscles, tissue layers or joints located at the lower end of the back. Lower back pain can be further categorized into two subtypes.
- Acute pain: It is of painful nature and can even extend till the knees. It occurs mainly due to cramps or strain in the lumbar muscles and can last for 5-6 weeks.
- Acute radiculopathy: It is more severe than the above type and is caused due to disturbed nerves in the lower back region. It can extend even below the knee and lasts for 6 weeks or more.
Do genes play any role?
Heredity can be a major contributor to this type of pain. A special kind of back pain called “Ankylosing Spondylitis” (caused due to degeneration and fusion of vertebral bones) is caused by a mutated variant of the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) gene namely HLA-B27. Recent research articles published in the “Annals of Rheumatic Diseases” journal reveals the connection between Lumbar Disc Degeneration (cause of pain in lower back) and the PARK2 gene.
Doctors suggest a few tests for the diagnosis of pain in the back. These are as follows:
- X-rays (helps detect the occurrence of broken bones)
- CT scans (to look for structural problems in the vertebral column)
- MRI scan (helps detect injuries to muscles, ligaments, and tendons)
Treatment & Prevention
Back pain can be easily prevented by following few basic healthy habits. Firstly, it is important to exercise and build up your core strength and stability.
Stronger muscles and joints mean better spine health. Also practice right posture habits while sitting, standing, and sleeping. Refrain from sitting for extended time and sleeping on your belly.
Having a healthy diet and BMI goes a long way in ensuring lesser chances of developing backache. Your workstation should be ergonomically correct.
Reducing stress also plays a significant role as stressful events may cause over-tightening of muscles that leads to chronic back ache. One of the biggest contributors to chronic backache is smoking; tobacco consumption narrows blood vessels as a result of which the spinal region receives limited nutrients and oxygen. Wear comfortable, well-fitting shoes and avoid wearing high heels. Remember to stretch before exercising. Always lift from your knees, instead of your back. Avoid sudden jerks and movements that might put massive strain on your spinal column.
The long-term effects of back pain can be devastating and can cripple different parts of the body. Extreme cases might even lead to paralytic conditions. Direct medications for healing pain is the least recommended solution. Rather, leading a healthy life through regular exercise, swimming, yoga can keep the pain at an arm’s length. Also circumstances causing back pain, like heavy lifting and incorrect postures should be strictly avoided. With proper care and attention, any kind of pain can be nipped at the bud and the world will see no more healthy-turned-crippled examples.
- Lower backache is the leading cause of disability around the world and the most common reason for absenteeism from work.
- Studies reveal that 80% of the global population will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime.
- 25% of your entire spinal column is cartilage. Your spine consists over 120 muscles, 100 joints, and roughly 220 ligaments.
- Bed rest is not the best cure for back pain, it makes the pain worse. It is important to move around or go for a walk if back pain persists.
- An intermittent pain in the lower back towards the groin could be indicative of kidney stones.
- Smoking decreases oxygen and nutrient flow to the spinal tissues thus making smokers more vulnerable to backaches.
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Dos and Don'ts
- Maintain the right posture while sitting, standing, and sleeping.
- Use firmer mattresses rather than super-soft ones to align your back during sleeping.
- Always stretch yourself after waking up for one full minute.
- Keep sitting in one position for a long time. Get up and move around.
- Sleep on your stomach as it puts maximum pressure in your cervical region of the spine.
- Bend too much forward while driving or working on a desk.
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