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Anyone who has ever suffered the misery of back pain knows how urgent it is to get relief. Once you are free from the pain, most people will learn as much as they can about their sore back to try to prevent back problems from arising again.
Back pain can vary from person to person, type to type, and region to region, such as the upper, middle and lower back. It can be a dull, constant ache or sudden sharp pain like a dagger that makes it almost too painful to move. It can start quickly if you fall, get a sports injury, or lift something too heavy. Or it might worsen over time, getting progressively worse.
One thing is for sure, the pain in a memorable one, and the majority of people will experience it at some point in their lives. Let’s get started with what back pain is and how common it can be. What is back pain and how common is it?
Back pain can occur for a range of reasons that are either structural, musculoskeletal, nervebased, or a sign of an underlying disorder. Most back pain is structural or musculoskeletal and the nerves can be affected by changes in the structure of the spine.
The spine is a complex system of interlocking bones and joints called vertebrae. The spinal column extends from the base of our skull all the way down to the tailbone at our pelvis, the coccyx. The many vertebrae that make up the spine are labeled in terms of area, and each is given a number so that all doctors know which they are referring to if there are any issues with the back that need to be dealt with.
Starting from the neck, the 4 areas are the:
The cervical region has 7 vertebrae, the thoracic 12, the lumbar 5 and the sacrum 5 bones, all fused together. The coccyx is actually made up of 4 small fused bones.
Most people experience lower back pain. Up to 80% of the population will have it at least once in their lives.
It tends to occur in older people and can increase with age, but of course anyone can get back pain due to injury. The prevalence varies with gender. Women are more likely to have lower back pain, a prolapsed or slipped disc, and sciatica, that is, pain in the sciatic nerves that run from the back down to the lower leg.
The prevalence also varies with race. Black women are two to three times more likely than white women to have part of the lower spine slip out of place.
What are the main causes of back pain? Let’s look at this topic in the next chapter.
What are the main causes of back pain?
Injury is the most common cause of back pain. It is often related to picking up things in such a way as to harm the spine, its nerves, or the muscles around it. For example, many people trying to lift a heavy object with bend over it with their arms straight and try to pull it towards their chest. This strains the muscles, especially in the lower back. Learning how to lift a heavy object properly, as we will discuss later in this guide, can help prevent back injury and a sore back. Anyone can have back pain, but some things that can increase your risk include:
Poor physical fitness
Back pain is more common in people who are not fit. A solid core will strengthen the back as well.
Carrying extra pounds, especially around the middle, can stress the back and cause pain. It is also usually a sign of a flabby core, and flabby muscles are weak and more prone to injury.
Some causes of back pain can have a genetic component and run in families.
Various health issues
Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain. Osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones, can also result in hairline fractures, bone spurs and other structural changes that can cause back pain.
Smokers with bone injuries heal around twice as slowly as non-smokers. One of the reasons may be that they do not circulate enough nutrients in the body to be able to heal bones and support good back health. As they age, their bones can become so brittle that smoker’s cough can trigger back pain and even injury.
If you have to lift, push, or pull often in your job, you are more at risk for injury. Many companies offer their workers braces to support the spine, but they need to be worn correctly in order to do any good.
If you sit at a desk all day and do not sit up straight, you may also get back pain. This will most commonly be in the lower part of the back, since this takes so much pressure and weight when you are sitting, but it can also occur in the neck, shoulders and middle of the back as well.
Lower back pain is one of the most common causes of pain, poor quality of life and lost productivity in the workplace. Chronic back pain can affect every area of your life, including work, sleep, sex, caring for your children, and more.
Fortunately, there are a range of ways to prevent back issues, and to treat them if they do arise. These include natural remedies, medications, and in extreme cases, surgery. The treatments will depend on the cause of the pain.
Sometimes the cause is very obvious, such as an injury. In other cases, the pain is real, but might require a process of elimination to determine where it is coming from and why.
Doctors try to classify the pain in terms of type and location in order to try to track down the cause and give effective treatment. Let’s look at different kinds of back pain in the next chapter.
Different types of back pain
Back pain will be classified as upper, middle and lower. They will also indicate whether or not the pain is on the left or the right. This can give a clue as to which of the many causes of back pain might be contributing to a patient’s issue.
The causes of back pain can be broadly classified as relating to:
Inflammation, such as is caused by arthritis
Three common classifications of back pain include:
This is also referred to as mechanical pain, and is usually the result of a muscle sprain or strain. It can be dull or sharp.
Referred pain moves around from location to location. It is associated with age-related changes to the spine and can be described as dull and achy.
This is nerve pain that will often radiate outwards along the path of the affected nerve and can cause the arm or leg to become numb or weak. The pain is described as searing. This pain can result from a number of different causes, including:
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