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Don’t Turn Your Back on Your Back Problem
9 August 2017 No comments
Common back issues and how to deal with them
Almost everyone knows someone who has a back problem. Approximately 80% of New Zealanders experience back pain at some point in their life. Around 25% of Australians experience lower back pain, and only half of them seek help. It’s also the most common workplace injury in Australia. Back issues have been a constant and unwavering problem. What can go wrong with your back? Hmmm, a better question would be, what can’t go wrong with your back? There’s a whole range of common spine conditions like:
- Muscle sprain or strain. A muscle sprain means that the tendons attached to your muscles are injured in some way. A muscle strain indicates that there has been an injury to the muscle itself. The causes of muscle sprain and strain include stress and trauma. If you’re overweight or pregnant, your back muscles can become overloaded and can lead to stress injuries. Lifting can also cause a muscle sprain or strain. Make sure you know the proper way to lift heavy objects.
- Slipped disc. The discs between the bones of your spinal column act as cushions. The substance inside these discs can rupture, bulge, herniate or slip into the surrounding structures around your spinal column like the spinal nerves. When the substance impinges on a nerve, most of the time, pain is the result.
- Pinched nerve. The term sounds cute, doesn’t it? Well, the pain it leads to isn’t! We kid you not. A pinched nerve happens when something compresses a spinal nerve. It could be anything ranging from a tumour (benign or malignant), blood, vertebral fracture, tendon, ruptured disc etc. Pinching can also produce numbness, tingling or weakness to the body part supplied by that nerve.
- Scoliosis. The normal human spine has no sideways curve. People with scoliosis suffer from varying degrees of sideways curve producing pain. The exact cause of most cases of scoliosis is unknown.
- Hunch back or kyphosis. People with kyphosis have excessive convex curvature of the spine. This can occur on the cervical, thoracic, or sacral parts of your spinal column. Several degenerative diseases of the spine like arthritis, osteoporosis, and trauma can produce kyphosis.
- Sciatica. The cause of sciatica originates from your lower back, but most of the symptoms are felt in your affected leg. The sciatic nerve is a large gathering of nerves in your buttocks area. One for each cheek to be exact. Symptoms include burning, searing, sharp or shooting pains down your leg (the side affected). Symptoms are worse while sitting down. The pain experienced can be debilitating. It can be caused by a variety of spine diseases that compress the sciatic nerve on that side.
- Osteoporosis. The bones in your spinal column become brittle and porous making your spine vulnerable to fractures.
Do you have a back problem? Take a look at the signs and symptoms below:
- The most common sign that you have a back problem is back pain. Most of the medical conditions above present as back pain. Back pain can be acute (occurs suddenly) or chronic (>6 weeks duration). The most common cause of acute back pain is from lifting heavy objects. Most cases of chronic back pain are caused by prolonged stress on your back like sitting for long hours in front of your computer. Back pain can also be classified according to location as upper back pain or lower back pain.
- If you have poor posture, you may experience some back problems. A jutted out chin (or poking head), rolled shoulders, hunch back, and pelvic tilts are signs of poor posture. Click here if you want to know more about poor posture.
- Also included in your list of signs and symptoms are muscle aches, limitation in the range of motion of your back, and physical findings like misalignment or rarely, the presence of a mass. If your back pain is accompanied by: bladder and bowel problems, trauma to your back resulting in paralysis (road traffic accidents or sports injuries), or fever, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
Practical Tips For How to Manage and Prevent Your Back Problem
- Practice good posture every day in front of a mirror. Read more about this in our article on posture.
- Don’t make your back problem an excuse not to exercise. Once your back pain or injury has resolved, you might want to stick with exercises like Pilates and swimming to start with. Stay away from exercises like weightlifting and tennis, anything that can twist and smash your back like a Piñata; at least until your physiotherapist gives you the all clear!
- If you want the best exercises for your back, talk to a physical therapist. They can educate you on exercises that increase your flexibility, strengthen your abdominal muscles, and help you to maintain good posture. You can also ask the therapist to teach you how to stretch properly. Physical therapists are different from physiotherapists. The former rely heavily on manual or hands-on techniques as opposed to the latter which predominantly use electrical modalities like electrical stimulation, muscle releasing techniques, heat, and ultrasound to address your back problem.
- Don’t spend too much time sitting. Sitting deprives your spinal discs of important nutrition and blood supply. When you move around, blood circulates, so your discs get their nutrition. Do you sit in front of your computer for long hours? Learn the correct posture for sitting. Take a break and move around after 20 minutes of sitting down. Hey, but make sure you go back to work after moving around for about 20 seconds, and don’t gravitate towards the vending machine.
- Get adequate sleep at night…and not at work. Adults need 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. Choose your mattress well. We can help you out with that. Click here.
- You forgot about nutrition, didn’t you? That spacious back of yours does need nutrition too. Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D are all needed for bone (your spinal column) health. Acute back pain involves inflammation so natural anti-inflammatory agents like curcumin, fish oil, and systemic enzymes can help. Proteolytic systemic enzymes remove excess fibrin to allow sufficient blood flow around your spine, reduce inflammation and accelerate healing.
- Trim your weight down. Being overweight casts a huge burden (literally) on your spine and back muscles.
- If your back pain persists, you may want the professional services of an osteopath or chiropractor. Generally speaking, chiropractors use a variety of techniques to manipulate your spine while osteopaths employ a wider set of techniques overall, most of which extend beyond your spine. Both disciplines treat the same types of conditions including back problems. Both types of practitioners are dedicated to helping you.
- Massage and yoga classes are other activities you may want to try with a loved one to help your back pain.
The Bottom Line
There are several conditions that can give you back problems. Know the signs and some of the common conditions. Whether it’s acute or chronic back pain, don’t let it give you discomfort or even debilitate you. Seek professional help as soon as you can. Because of recent advances and research done on back conditions, there are numerous treatments available. Don’t back down from your back problems. Ok, we’ll stop with the back puns. We’ve got your back!
- Murtagh, J., & Rosenblatt, J. (2015). John Murtagh's general practice (sixth ed.). North Ryde, NSW: McGraw-Hill Education.