What is Back Pain?
Back pain is one of the most common health problems amongst people aged 35-55 and is the biggest cause of work sickness. Most back pain is a temporary condition that results from strain on the ligaments and muscles that support the spine. The majority of these cases are caused by stress or an exercise related injury and isn’t usually cause for major medical concern, although it is highly uncomfortable and can be debilitating for a while.
As the back is such a complex structure and is the main framework of the entire body, carrying the pressure of all the movements we make, even the smallest twinge can prove painful.
In total the back consists of 24 small bones called vertebra that support the weight of the body. These consist of 7 cervical or nick vertebra, 12 thoracic or middle back vertebra, 5 lumbar or lower back vertebra and 4 coccygeal or tail bone vertebra that are fused segments.
As part of this structure there is also:
- Shock absorbing gel-like discs called intervertabrates placed in-between the vertebra that cushion the bones on impact and allow fluid flexibility.
- Ligaments that connect the structure
- Tendons connecting the muscles to the bone
- Spinal cord protected by the bones that deliver sensory information from the body to the brain and convey motor signals from the brain to the body.
Types of Back Pain
Lower Back pain, often referred to as Lumbago effects 70% of people at some point in their lives. It normally manifests itself as a pain or ache in the lower region of the back around the same level as the hips and because this area is so compact, even the smallest amount of damage can cause a lot of pain.
Upper back pain usually occurs across the shoulders and in the lower neck region. Often occurring as a painful ache it can also cause the area around the lower neck to become sensitive to touch and if often referred to as being knotted. It effects a very high number of people, especially as the majority of people now work on computers and ‘hunch’ over desks.
Serious back pain can occur from a rupture or bulging in one or more of the invertebral discs. When this happens the jelly like fluid contained in the spinal structure presses onto the spinal cord or the nerve roots. This is a condition that is commonly known as a slipped disk. The pain resulting from a slipped disc usually manifests itself in the lower region of the back and at its worst, can be felt in the lower extremities, including the toes and can be accompanied by pins and needles and weakness.
Symptoms of Back Pain
Symptoms of back pain aren’t complex, it is simply any ache, pain or discomfort around either the lower or upper area of the back.
However, the NHS recommends that if back pain is coupled with any of the following conditions, then medical advice should be sought: :
- Weight loss
- Inflammation or swelling on the back
- Constant back pain that doesn’t ease during rest
- Pain that travels to the chest
- Pain down the legs or below the knees
- Recent trauma or injury to the back
- Loss of bladder control
- Inability to pass urine
- Numbness around the genitals, buttocks or anus
Causes of Back Pain
Most causes of back pain occur because of improper movement, accident or wear and tear:
Aging is a major cause of back pain, simply because of degeneration and general wear and tear. As we get older the invertebrates wear down and have less shock absorption qualities, meaning movement is strained and stiffness tends to occur in the morning.
Physically demanding occupations also put a lot of strain on the back and often involve repetition of lifting or bending, which can gradually wear down the muscle’s ability to recuperate after a days work.
Having a sedentary lifestyle can have major detrimental effects on the back, as it doesn’t engage or develop the muscles and can lead to obesity, which puts an excessive amount of pressure on the spine to carry the weight of the body.
Sports do heighten the risk of back injury in terms of their sometimes physical contact and also their repetition. For example rugby can put immense pressure on the back to support the body in high intensity positions, whereas golf can induce repetitive strains due to the constant twisting.
Poor Posture when standing, sitting, driving or sleeping is one of the most common causes of back pain as the majority of workers have desk jobs that lead them to slouching in their chairs and developing poor habits when lifting and carrying heavy loads. The popularity of high heels has also led to an increase in the back pain experienced by women as they throw the body forward and out of alignment.
Other common causes of back pain are:
- Pelvic problems
- Stress related tension
- Viral infections
- Bone disorders
- Bladder and kidney infections
- Trauma or injury
- Sleep disorders
Relief and Prevention of Back Pain
Good posture is key in the treatment and prevention of lower and upper back pain. It ensures the body is being held in the correct position and that the vertebra are aligned and able to rely on the muscles and ligaments to hold them in place without excess strain. Good posture also works the muscles in the core of the body and ensures that the abdominal muscles in particular are being used to support the spine. If posture is something that you struggle with, then posture supports can be used to counteract poor posture and ensure the body is supported. Gradually your body will get used to sitting and standing in the correct position and the use of the postural aid can be lessened.
Correctly supporting the feet is pivotal to achieving a positive posture and correct body alignment. If the feet are unsupported or ill fitting/badly supporting shoes cause the feet to fall out of alignment or stop them from supporting the body properly, it can have a huge negative impact on posture. The main advice is to avoid heels and seek therapeutic shoes where possible.
The health and wellness footwear market is the fastest growing in the industry and has many solutions for back pain.
You should also make sure that you support the back whenever possible and stretch properly to avoid injury or tension build-up.
Other general treatments for the pain include:
- Ice or heat patches
- Gentle exercise
- Chiropractic treatment