Conservative estimates report that at least 80 percent of people will experience back pain at some point in their life. Luckily, from acute injury to chronic pain, there are solutions available to address discomfort.
Back pain includes lower back pain, middle back pain, upper back pain, or sciatica. Nerve and muscular problems, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis can result in back pain. Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Experts estimate that as much as 80% of the population will experience a back problem at some time in their lives.
Most cases of back pain are mechanical or non-organic—meaning they are not caused by severe conditions, such as inflammatory arthritis, infection, fracture, or cancer.
Common signs and symptoms of back pain can include:
- Muscle ache
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down your leg
- Pain that worsens with bending, lifting, standing or walking
- Pain that improves with reclining
Mechanical back pain is a common condition that causes pain that’s deep and agonizing in nature. The term “mechanical” means the source of the pain may be in the spinal joints, discs, vertebrae, or soft tissues. Symptoms for this form of back injury can appear at any age and can worsen with exercise.
The other form of pain is inflammatory back pain, which is chronic, meaning it never really goes away, even if its symptoms come and go. Symptoms typically appear around age 25 with pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion lasting 3 or more months. Discomfort can also be worse in the mornings and evenings. However, exercise CAN provide relief when it comes to this form of back pain. In fact, symptoms are often made worse by INACTIVITY and long bouts of sitting. This discomfort can affect sleep quality and is one reason why many people with inflammatory back pain experience sleep disruptions. Inflammatory back pain is usually caused by an underlying autoimmune condition.
Some examples of common autoimmune conditions include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Type 1 diabetes mellitus
The exact cause of back pain can be challenging to identify. However, determining between mechanical and inflammatory can provide the right direction for symptom relief.
Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
- Muscle or ligament strain. Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you’re in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back can cause painful muscle spasms.
- Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve. However, you can have a bulging or ruptured disk without back pain. Disk disease is often found incidentally when you have spine X-rays for some other reason.
- Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
- Skeletal irregularities. A condition in which your spine curves to the side (scoliosis) also can lead to back pain, but generally not until middle age.
- Osteoporosis. Your spine’s vertebrae can develop compression fractures if your bones become porous and brittle.
While anyone can develop back pain, even children and teens, some factors might put you at higher risk of developing back pain:
- Age- Back pain is more common as you get older, starting around age 30 or 40.
- Lack of exercise- Weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen might lead to back pain.
- Excess weight- Excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
- Diseases- Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.
- Improper lifting- Using your back instead of your legs can lead to back pain.
- Psychological conditions- People prone to depression and anxiety appear to have a greater risk of back pain.
- Smoking- This reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can keep your body from delivering enough nutrients to the disks in your back. Smoking also slows healing.
You want to use your body correctly by avoiding movements that twist or strain your back.
Stand smart and don’t slouch to maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.
Sit smart. Choose a seat with excellent lower back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back can maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.
Lift smart. Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight — no twisting — and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.
Lengthy bouts of sitting are the enemy! Get up every 20 minutes or so, and stretch the other way. Try walking around the office during breaks to lengthen leg muscles.
We’re all guilty of having poor posture. However, awareness of your bad habits is the first step in correcting your posture.
Wear lower heels. Swap your four-inch pumps for flats or low heels (less than 1 inch). High heels may create a more unstable posture, and increase pressure on your lower spine.
It’s time to quit. Smoking can increase your risk for osteoporosis of the spine and other bone problems which can, in turn, lead to compression fractures of the spine. Recent research found that smokers are more likely to have low back pain compared with nonsmokers.
Watch your weight. Use diet and exercise to keep your weight within a healthy range for your height. Being overweight puts excess stress on your spine.
Chiropractic adjustments are typically synonymous with back pain. And for good reason! By correcting the alignment of the spine, nerve endings can function properly and pressure causing pain can be reduced. Many studies have concluded that manual therapies commonly used by chiropractors are useful for the treatment of lower back pain, as well as for treatment of lumbar herniated disc for radiculopathy and neck pain, among other conditions.
Chiropractic care can include different forms of spinal manipulation, commonly known as adjustments. Not all chiropractic care involves cracking bones directly. One technique uses a handheld device called an activator, a gentler way to align your spine. Another involves moving the table to align the patient’s body.