With an estimated 80 percent of adults today experiencing some level of back pain at some point during life, you are certainly not alone if your own back is hurting at the moment. In fact, back pain is the number one cause of disability on the job and contributes to the most number of days missed from work. With more than 25 percent of adults reporting as having back pain in the last three months, it is evident that this is a serious problem. Let us take a few moments to explore this issue further.
What Structures Make Up the Back?
There are five vertebrae in the lumbar region of your back, and this is where most the back pain that people feel comes from. These vertebrae are responsible for supporting the weight of your upper body. There are spaces between the vertebrae that are actually kept together by some round and rubbery pads. These are intervertebral discs and they are meant to act as shock absorbers for the back. When these start to break down, pain can come into the equation rather quickly. That is when you will need a spine doctor to determine what course of pain treatment you will need. It is a series of ligaments that actually hold each of vertebrae in the place they are supposed to be. Tendons then complete the process by attaching the muscles to your actual spinal column.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Back pain is frustrating enough, but when you have no idea what is causing it, then the feeling is just exacerbated. Many times, lower back pain is caused by tears in the joint, bones, and disc areas of the spine. This tends to occur most often as people age. There are many different ways that this pain can arise. Some of the more common include the following:
- Sprains and Strains
- Intervertebral Disc Degeneration
- Herniated or Ruptured Discs
- Some Type of Traumatic Injury
- Spinal Stenosis
- Irregularities of the Skeletal System
Lower back pain can also, on rare occasions, be caused by some type of underlying health condition. When this is the case, immediate medical attention is necessary, so keep that in mind. These health conditions can include any of the following:
- Cauda Equina Syndrome
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysms
- Kidney Stones
To be even more specific, there are some people that are predisposed to developing lower back pain. These include individuals who have any of the following chronic conditions:
- Inflammatory Diseases of the Joints
What Are the Risk Factors for Developing Back Pain?
Certain people are at a higher risk of developing back pain than others. Following is a brief description of some of the more commonly cited risk factors so that you can see where you lie on the spectrum.
- Age – Individuals between the ages of 30 and 50 typically are the ones that show the first signs of lower back pain. This will become more pronounced as one gets older.
- Fitness level – The less physically fit a person is, the more likely they are to encounter lower back pain at some point. This is because fitness tends to strengthen the back muscles, making it less susceptible to pain over time.
- Pregnancy – Because of the pelvic changes that result in pregnancy, along with the weight gain, a great deal of stress is suddenly placed on the lower back. This can lead to back pain.
- Weight Gain – The heavier a person is, the more stress is placed on the lower back. This, in turn, can lead to back pain.
- Genetics – For some people, back pain is in their genes. This is particularly the case with various forms of arthritis.
- Occupational Risk Factors – Individuals who have a job that puts a lot of strain on the back will be more susceptible to developing pain in the lower back.
- Mental Health Issues – Some people have high degrees of depression and anxiety. This influences how closely they focus on pain and their perception of it. This can lead to back pain as well.
- Heavy Backpacks – This is a risk factor for children. Loading backpacks down with heavy books can lead to lower back pain.
How is Back Pain Diagnosed?
If you suspect back pain, you will want to see a spine doctor. It is important to obtain a medical history along with a physical exam in order to determine the conditions that might be causing the pain that you are feeling. Your doctor will ask you many questions about the origin and severity of the pain, and you will want to answer those questions as honestly and openly as you can. This information will determine how to best diagnose the back issues that you are having and work towards pain treatment in the future.
Following are some of the methods that are utilized today to better diagnose lower back pain. The method used will depend on individual risk factors that the person presents with.
- Computerized Tomography (CT)
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Bone Scans
- Ultrasound Imaging
- Blood Tests
How is Back Pain Treated?
The treatment for back pain will usually depend upon whether or not it is of the acute or chronic variety. Surgery is not usually recommended as the first course of action unless there is nerve damage that is getting worse. There are some strengthening exercises that you can begin doing to get the back stronger and less susceptible to pain. There is also physical therapy that might be recommended in order to begin strengthening the core muscle groups in the back region. In some cases, medication may be used to alleviate the pain. Follow doctor instructions with these, as some medications can have serious side effects and, as such, should only be used as the doctor prescribes.
While surgery may not be the first recommended course of treatment, there are cases where there is no other lasting alternative. Surgery is designed to relieve the pain that is caused by injuries to the back or compression of nerves. There are actually many different surgical options that might be proposed to you. These include the following:
- Vertebroplasty and Kyphoplasty
- Spinal Laminectomy
- Discectomy or Microdiscectomy
- Intradiscal Electrothermal Therapy
- Spinal Fusion
- Artificial Disc Replacement
Can Back Pain Be Prevented?
This is a common question. There are times when back pain just comes about for no real good reason at all. There are other times when you can work to mitigate certain risk factors that will lead to back pain. This includes limiting the strain you put on your back, decreasing your weight, and avoiding sudden twists and turns when you know you have a propensity towards back pain.
Keeping Your Back Healthy
There are many ways that you can work towards keeping your back healthy. This includes:
- Stretching Before Exercise
- Avoid Slouching
- Keep Work Surfaces at a Comfortable Height
- Sit In Chairs With Good Lumbar Support
- Wear Comfortable Shoes With Low Heels
- Sleep On a Firm Surface
- Avoid Lifting Heavy Objects
Research on Back Pain
There is a great deal of research being conducted on back pain. You can read more online. Look at the work currently being conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Now that you know more about your spine and how it impacts back pain, you should have a better idea about what you need to feel better. If you are in pain, you should consult with your doctor and inquire about treatment options. You do not have to live in pain, so work to do educate yourself and then do something about it.