Back pain is increasingly becoming the major cause of disability around the world. Statistics released by the American Chiropractic Association paint a very unfortunate picture stating that 31 million people in the USA alone will suffer from back pain at any given time in their lives. 50% of the working population will have at least one of the many symptoms of this illness.
Back pain itself is not one single disorder but is a combination of several medical complications. It results due to impairment in either the ligaments, muscles, or nerves of the lower back region. In some reported cases, a patient diagnosed with kidney stones also reported severe back pain.
We must now consider the structure of the back region:
The lower spine which is usually the protagonist in the pain process is composed of tiny bones (lumbar and sacral vertebrae) with tissues providing a cushioning support. There are also millions of nerves in the spinal cord region and muscles to aid mobility.
Back Pain is usually caused due to any of the following reasons mentioned:
Strain: The word has its frequent usage in the world of physical exercise. Often when athletes lift heavy weights in an incorrect manner, they are likely to suffer from a strain. Overexertion or overworking beyond one’s capacity can also be one major contributor and hence result in back pain. Symptoms often include stiffness and temporary immobility
Back pain can likely result due to disruption in the skeletal system making up the back region
Ruptured Disk: As the vertebrae are supported by a number of disks, if these disks get ruptured, it can put extra strain on the back resulting in severe pain
Arthritis: Although arthritis more commonly affects the joints and the knees, there have been reported cases where the spinal region has been a victim. This condition is known as Spinal Stenosis. Arthritis also narrows the spinal canal causing skeletal impairment.
Osteoporosis: One of the most disabling and devitalizing conditions of the back, osteoporosis weakens the spinal bone which makes it difficult to withstand normal pressure hence causing immobility. The most outward symptom of osteoporosis is the fracture of the vertebral bone. Although this condition is both preventable and treatable, due to lack of awareness about its diagnosis, symptoms often intensify. 1.5 million people suffer from osteoporotic fractures every year.
Presence of Kidney Stones: Patients with kidney stones in their body reported that the early symptoms included a destabilizing pain in the lower back region below the rib cages where kidneys are located. It then spreads out to the abdomen and soon engulfs the whole of the back region. Pain usually is fluctuating and can be known to last for hours in one instance.
Infections and Tumors
There are various chronic illnesses and infections, the symptoms of which include pain in the back region.
Staphylococcus, E. coli and tuberculosis are the fungal/bacterial infections that can commonly affect the spine.
Moreover, patients suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer and nonmalignant tumour reported pain in the spinal region too.
How to Determine Back Pain in the Short Run?
The following characteristics of back pain can vary in their severity and last temporarily. If these symptoms are long-lived (>3 months) then a surgery or other chiropractic treatment may be advised:
- Fluctuating, debilitating pain in the back region often moving down through the hip region to the legs
- Immobility or difficulty walking. In other instances, people with back pain will tend to bend their upper body front while moving
- Unable to stand up for long and needing support while sitting down
- General tenderness and dull sensation causing irritability
Symptoms that may be severe!
The above-mentioned characteristic of back pain may have a short span and be prevented easily. On the contrary, there are other symptoms which often last for months and even years in some instances. This may be an indication of a severe medical problem where a person might need to seek professional advice on an urgent basis.
Chronic back pain may be characterized by:
- Long lasting high degree fever
- Perpetual pain intensifying at night and when waking up
- Weight loss
- Uncontrolled bladder and bedwetting
- Numbness, weakness and feeling fatigued
- Abdominal pain
Who are at risk of back pain?
Back pain can affect anyone and should not be sidelined as a disease affecting only a certain subgroup. Yet, there are people who are more prone to back pain and stand at a higher chance of experiencing it than anyone else. These include:
- Overweight (Extra weight puts a strain on the spinal region)
- Older people (Bones are likely to experience more wear and tear at an older age. Think of the body as a machine, the more you use it, the lesser the efficiency!)
- Athletes: If athletes do not warm up or stretch before strenuous exercise, the back is more prone to pain. It is also important to make sure that heavy objects are lifted properly.
- Couch potatoes or people who sit all day long at work without any physical activity
Treatment and Prevention
The statistics related to back pain may portray a very unfortunate picture, however, thanks to the advancement in the field of science, the condition is still treatable. It is not to say that a person can enjoy all the luxuries again post-treatment since the chances of pain reappearing are still considerable. Anyhow, it is important to make sure that the causes are avoided and utmost effort is invested to lead a healthy life.
Medications for Back Treatment
Synthetic medicines are available in almost all drug stores and their non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory properties make them useful for inhibiting pain. Physicians will often recommend ibuprofen and naproxen as relievers. Caution needs to be taken that the medicine is ingested with food in order to avoid stomach ulcers.
When pain happens to get more severe, doctors may advise the patient to switch to amitriptyline or gabapentin which works as a good counter for nerve-related pains.
Needless to say, medications should not be consumed without consulting a professional.
The impact of synthetic drugs may be quick in revitalizing the body however often it comes with a cost of a significant number of side effects.
As back pain can cause inflammation in the spinal region, ice packs can be used as a viable anti-inflammatory option to relieve the redness and pain.
Physical therapists, on the other hand, have advised numerous exercises that can be easily carried out and aid in relocating the skeletal disruption. Furthermore, these exercises also help build endurance and strength. Physical therapists will often focus on improving posture and guide on proper lifting and exercising techniques.
Surgery and Other Alternatives
A person should only undertake chiropractic surgery if recommended by a professional as it is considered the last resort (when medications and home remedies have proven to be ineffective). People who have serious structural impairments, with perpetual pain and nerve compression can undergo surgeries to revitalize the body. Surgeons will henceforth carry out spinal fusion and disk replacements to provide better cushioning to the vertebrae.
Other alternatives for inhibiting short-term back pain include acupuncture and massages. Yoga/behavioural therapies are also recommended as recent studies have suggested that an excessive amount of stress is a major cause of back pain as well.