Back pain—if you have never experienced it, you are lucky (and you are among the minority). Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints.
About one out of every four adults experience back pain for at least 1 day in any 3-month period.
Three main causes of back pain:
- Disease (both hereditary and acquired)
- Wear and tear
Back pain can result from:
- Stenosis (narrowing of the vertebral column, which puts pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots)
- Disk degeneration
- Muscle spasm and muscle tension
- Ruptured disk
When to see your doctor… if your pain:
- Is constant or intense, especially at night or when you lie down
- Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below your knee
- Causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
- Occurs with unintended weight loss
- Occurs with swelling or redness on your back
Most Common Causes of Back Pain
Back pain can come on suddenly or build slowly over time. Your back pain may range from a constant, dull ache to a sudden, sharp pain. People who have jobs that require them to engage in heavy lifting, twisting, or pushing/ pulling movements are more likely to have back problems, as are those who are inactive. Being physically active builds strong back and abdominal muscles, which help support the spine.
The spine. Also known as, the vertebral column or spinal column, is a column of 26 bones in an adult body and form a gentle S curve — 24 separate vertebrae inter-spaced with cartilage, and then additionally the sacrum and coccyx. The vertebrae are linked to each other (which allows you to bend backwards) and have cushioning disks between them. Your spinal cord runs through the middle of your spine from the base of your brain to your lower back, and has 31 nerves that branch out between the vertebrae into your body.
Spinal stenosis. Normally, the vertebral column has plenty of room for your spinal cord. However, when something, such as injury or disease (for example, arthritis or scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine) causes the opening to narrow, it can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. Some people have no symptoms with spinal stenosis; others have neck or back pain. You may also experience numbness, weakness or cramping. If you have pain that radiates down your leg, you may have a condition called sciatica.
Mechanical problems. The most common movement-related cause of back pain is inter-vertebral disk degeneration, caused by the disks wearing down as you age. Muscle spasms, muscle tension, and a ruptured disk can also cause mechanical problems of the spine.
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, or loss of bone mass, puts you at increased risk of fractures and may shrink your spine, producing a prominent humpback (called a dowager’s hump) due to the loss of bone mass.
You can resolve most back problems with conservative therapies, such as medication for pain and inflammation, temporarily restricting your activities, physical therapy, exercise, or by using a lumbar support or brace. Some people who have chronic back problems find that chiropractic care helps. A chiropractor manipulates your spine to restore your ability to move. Acupuncture may also relieve back pain.
Protect your back by exercising regularly to keep your muscles strong and to improve your balance and strength so you are less likely to fall. Eating a healthy diet and getting enough calcium and vitamin D may help prevent osteoporosis. Take precautions to protect your back when you engage in strenuous work or recreational activities.
Back problems can be extremely disabling. Help protect your back by exercising regularly to build strong back and abdominal muscles. Maintain a healthy weight to avoid placing excess stress on your back.
Talk to your doctor about screening for low bone density and osteoporosis. Experts recommend that women at average risk begin screening at age 65 and men begin at 70. To schedule an appointment, call 888-452-IRMC or visit www.IRMCdocs.org.