by Kimberly Allen RN
Almost everyone experiences some type of back pain during their lifetime. Anyone at any age can experience back pain though it is more common in people 20-50 years of age. Children and teens may experience back pain but rarely see their Dr. For children and teens that do see their Dr and people over 50 years of age that have back pain it’s usually more serious.
Back pain has a significant impact on productivity. Not only can it impact your ability to work but also in your ability to perform your regular activities of daily living. Though the economic impact is significant worldwide in the US it is the number one cause of limited activity by people under 40 years of age and the second most common complaint at the Dr’s office as well as being not only the fifth leading cause of hospitalization but also the third leading reason for surgery. Some countries have even started public awareness and education campaigns to help improve the situation.
The most common cause of back pain is injury. Your back is comprised of 33 small bones called vertebrae with small cartilage disc’s between each one to cushion and prevent contact between the bones as well as all the other connective tissues and muscles needed to support it. An injury to any part of this system can cause pain. The most common injury is a strain. Strains usually occur when you try to lift something that’s too heavy and not using proper body mechanics or making sudden awkward movements etc. Some people may have structural problems with their back like bulging or ruptured disc’s. Sometimes bulging or ruptured disc’s can press on your sciatic nerve causing sharp pains to shoot down your leg. Some people are born with skeletal irregularities like scoliosis where the spine curves to the side. Osteoarthritis and osteoporosis can both lead to back pain. People with osteoporosis have a high risk of vertebral fractures due to the porous bones.
Over use is probably the most common non injury related cause of back pain. Usually this type of back pain develops gradually and results from moving improperly, especially with repetitive movements, and/or not using good posture when doing everyday activities. You can develop back pain when not only lifting but when standing or sitting and walking and believe it or not even when sleeping improperly.
The most important element of properly diagnosing back pain is the physical examination. It’s very important that you provide honest and accurate information to your Dr during the examination, even if you think it’s not what the Dr wants to hear. I have a friend that jumped over a stream and landed awkwardly, over the next few days his back pain worsened to the point he was crawling because he couldn’t stand. So I called my orthopedic surgeon and asked him to look at him. during the exam the Dr was concerned about the physical symptoms he saw, my friends back was not lining up correctly, however the pain was on the wrong side. The Dr had him walk etc and always the pain was on the wrong side when he asked and despite the Dr repeatedly asking my friend stuck to his story and a good thing too because he avoided unnecessary surgery on his back. With medications and specific exercises my friend was walking again in a week. Though he still had pain he was on the road to recovery.
Treatment for back pain varies depending on the cause and severity. In most cases NSAID’s and physical therapy are all that’s needed. Some people may also need muscle relaxers depending on the severity of the pain. If you have severe a injury or uncontrollable pain the Dr may recommend surgery. Surgical techniques have improved in recent years increasing it’s effectiveness, however recovery is still a long process.
The best way to prevent back pain is by learning to use proper body mechanics for everything from sitting to lifting. Regular exercise helps to not only build and strengthen muscles but also increases your flexibility which will decrease your potential for injury and back pain. It’s also important to maintain a healthy weight because being over weight can significantly strain your back muscles causing pain.