Back pain is common and affects 4 out of 5 of us at some point in our life, most commonly between the ages of 35 and 55. It usually feels like an ache, tension or stiffness in your back.
The pain can be triggered by sitting badly, bending or sitting awkwardly, or lifting incorrectly.
Back pain is not generally caused by a serious disease and, in most cases, gets better within 12 weeks. It can usually be treated successfully by taking painkillers and keeping mobile. It's often caused by a simple muscle, tendon or ligament strain, and not usually by a serious problem.
Back pain can be acute, where the pain starts quickly but then reduces after a few days or weeks; or chronic, where pain might last on and off for several weeks or even months and years
Simplified anatomy of the back
Have you ever tried to build a tower of cubes?
It is quite similar to what your back bones look like. Back bones are made of a series of small cubes (called vertebrae). These cubes are separated from each other through hard cushions (called discs) that act as shock absorbers. All these cubes and cushions form together a tower of cubes (also called the vertebral column of the spine)
The vertebral column is supported along its length by muscles and ligaments. The spinal cord threads down through the centre of each vertebra, carrying nerves from the brain to the rest of the body.
Causes of back pain
In simple (non-specific) back pain, usually there is not an underlying condition causing the back pain; nothing shows up in tests, and nothing is permanently damaged. Nine out of 10 people with simple back pain recover completely within six weeks.
A person is more likely to develop simple back pain if he or she is:
- Standing, sitting or bending down for long periods
- Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling loads that are too heavy ( particularly if in a wrong way)
- Trips or has a fall
- Is stressed, anxious, or overweight
Occasionally, there may be a more serious underlying cause of back pain, but this is rare.
Symptoms associated with back pain
Simple back pain
is often in the lower back (lumbar region), and may also spread to the buttocks and/or thighs. It's often described as a dull pain and can come and go at different times, depending on the level of activity. The pain can begin suddenly or come on gradually if there is a back strain over time.
Simple back pain usually only lasts a few days and gets better on its own. However, a physician should be consulted
if the back pain is associated with fever (high temperature),redness or swelling on theback,pain down the legs and/or below the knees, numbness or weakness in one or both legs or around thebuttocks, and/or loss of bladder or bowel control (incontinence).
Some symptoms are called "red flags" and may indicate the need for treating an underlying condition, therefore, seeking medical advice is a must if the pain is the result of an injury, if the age is under 20 or over 55 with the pain lasting for more than a few days, if on steroid medicines for more than a few months, a or if there is a known condition of cancer.
Diagnosis of back pain
If the back pain lasts longer than six weeks, or if the physician suspects there is some underlying cause of the back pain, one or more of the following tests maybe recommended:
- CT scans ( a CT scan uses X-rays to make a three-dimensional image of the body/or part of the body )
- MRI ( an MRI scan uses magnets and radio-waves to produce images of the inside of the body)
- Blood tests (for example: Blood Picture, Calcium Level, etc.)
Treatment of back pain
- Staying active (if the pain is tolerable and mild).
- Bed rest (if the pain is intolerable or interferes with moving).
- Heat therapy (a hot bath, applying a hot water bottle or heat pack directly to the affected area of the back, but not instantly after a back trauma).
- Ice therapy (following a back trauma, apply a cold compress, such as ice or a bag of frozen peas, wrapped in a towel, but not directly on the skin).
Painkillers (such as aspirin or paracetamol) or an anti-inflammatory medicine (such as ibuprofen) are often enough to relieve simple back pain (these can be taken as an oral medication, injections, or as topically applied creams, gels, or lotions).
More potent medications can be prescribed by the treating physician and under his/her supervision for the efficacy and the side effects.
This is given through sessions at the hospital or exercises done at home.
Surgery is considered as a last resort. The type of surgery will depend on the cause of the pain.
Prevention of back pain
This includes taking regular exercise (particularly walking and swimming, reducing stress levels, bending from the knees and hips-not from the back-and maintaininga good posture.