Back pain is considered a universal human experience. In other words, it is safe to assume that many people the world over have experienced it at one point or another. The condition is considered a primary cause of disability and is considered one of the primary reasons people miss work or visit a back pain specialist.
Fortunately, certain measures can be observed to help ensure the condition is kept at bay. If prevention fails, simple home care and proper body posture and mechanics can help heal the condition in a few weeks, at least in minor cases.
What are the common causes?
Back pain caused by heavy lifting or falls can occur suddenly and can last less than six weeks (acute). When back pain lingers for more than three months, it is already considered chronic. Back pain can be attributed to numerous causes and can be associated with the following conditions:
- Ligament or muscle strain – drastic awkward movements and repeated lifting of heavy objects may strain the spinal ligaments and the back muscles. A constant back strain may also result in painful muscle spasms.
- Ruptured or bulging disks – disks work by providing a cushion between the bones found in the spine (vertebrae). The soft material in the disk can rupture and press on a nerve.
- Arthritis – osteoarthritis can sometimes affect the lower back. In some instances, arthritis in the spine can result in narrowing of the space around the spinal cord (spinal stenosis).
- Skeletal irregularities – when the spine curves abnormally, back pain can also manifest. Severe cases of scoliosis (a condition characterized by the curving of the spine to the side) may also result to back pain.
- Osteoporosis – the vertebrae of the spine can develop compression fractures when the bones become brittle and porous.
How do I know I have a back problem?
Common symptoms and signs of back pain can include:
- Stabbing or shooting pain
- Radiating pain
- Limited range of motion and back flexibility
- Muscle ache
Most cases of back aches will respond well to self-care and home treatment and will get better within two weeks.
When should I see a Doctor or a Back Pain Specialist?
If the back pain persists, or worsens please seek medical attention.
Also seek medical attention if the back pain:
- Is a result of fall, blow to the back, or other injuries
- Is accompanied by fever
- Causes bladder or bowel incontinence (unable to control urine or passing motion)
Seeing a doctor is also considered necessary in the following scenarios:
- When the back pain is severe and does not improve with rest
- When the pain spreads to one (or both) legs or extends below the knee
- When there is tingling, numbness, and weakness in one (or both) legs
- Is accompanied by drastic and unexplained weight loss
Setting an immediate appointment with the doctor is also suggested for those who experience back pain for the first time past the age of 50 or those who experience back pain and has a history of osteoporosis, steroid use, cancer, or alcohol and drug abuse. By seeing a doctor early, early tests and investigations can be ordered(eg.Lumbar spine X-rays). This can detect spine disorders early for effective treatment.
Risk Factors of Back Pain
The following are some of the risk factors that put one at a greater risk of developing pain in the back:
- Lack of exercise – weak and unused muscles in the back may result to back pain.
- Age – back pain becomes more prevalent as one age and has the tendency to occur more often once the person turns 30 or 40.
- Excess weight – carrying around those extra pounds can put stress and strain on the back.
- Diseases – certain types of cancer and arthritis may contribute to back pain.
- Psychological conditions – those who are prone to anxiety and depression appear to be more susceptible to pain in the back.
- Smoking – this has been believed to hinder the delivery of enough nutrients to the disks in the back.
- Improper lifting – using the back as opposed to the legs may result to back pain.
How can I prevent back problems?
Back pain may be avoided by improving one’s physical condition and practising the right body mechanics. To ensure the back stays strong and healthy:
- Build muscle flexibility and strength – back muscle and abdominal exercises (core-strengthening exercises) can help condition the muscles so they can effectively function like a natural corset for the back. A physical therapist can suggest exercises that can help achieve said objectives.
- Exercise – doing low-impact aerobic activities on a consistent basis has been known to help increase both the endurance and strength of the back. It also helps the muscles function better. Swimming and walking are considered good choices.
- Maintain a healthy weight – carrying around excess weight may strain the muscles of the back. Losing the extra pounds can do wonders for the back.
Observe proper body posture and mechanics:
- Stand smart – observing a neutral pelvic position at all times is considered ideal. When standing for long periods, placing one foot on a stool (and alternating) can help take some load off from the lower back. Observing proper posture can also help minimize the stress placed on the back muscles.
- Sit smart – at all times, opt for a seat that offers good lower back support, has an arm rest, and a swivel base. To ensure normal curve is maintained, consider placing a rolled pillow or towel in the small of the back. The knees and hips should also be kept level. Changing positions (ideally, every 30 minutes) is also considered ideal.
- Lift smart – whenever possible, refrain from lifting anything heavy. However, if you really need to lift something heavy, ensure you let your legs do all the work. The back should also be kept straight with the bending done only at the knees. If the object is too heavy, it would be best to get a lifting partner so the back is not strained.