UNDERSTANDING YOUR BACK
The back and spine are designed to provide a great deal of strength, protecting the highly sensitive spinal cord and nerve roots, yet flexible, providing for mobility in all directions.
However, there are many different parts of the spine that can produce back pain, such as irritation to the large nerve roots that run down the legs and arms, irritation to small nerves inside the spine, strains to the large back muscles, as well as any injury to the disc, bones, joints or ligaments in the spine.
Acute back pain comes on suddenly and usually lasts from a few days to a few weeks.
Chronic back pain is typically described as lasting for more than three months.
Back pain can take on a wide variety of characteristics:
- The pain may be constant, intermittent, or only occur with certain positions or activities
- The pain may remain in one spot or refer or radiate to other areas
- It may be a dull ache, or a sharp or piercing or burning sensation
- The problem may be in the neck or low back but may radiate into the leg or foot *sciatica*, arm or hand. Other than pain, back pain symptoms may include weakness, numbness or tingling.
Back Pain Risk Factors: What Can Increase The Potential for Back Problems?
There are many risk factors for back pain, including aging, genetics, occupational hazards, lifestyle, weight, posture, pregnancy and smoking. With that said, back pain is so prevalent that it can strike even if you have no risk factors at all.
Specific Risk Factors for Back Pain
Patients with one or more of the following factors may be at risk for back pain:
Aging. Over time, wear and tear on the spine that may result in conditions that produce neck and back pain. This means that people over age 30 or 40 are more at risk for back pain than younger individuals. People age 30 to 60 are more likely to have disc-related disorders, while people over age 60 are more likely to have pain related to
Genetics. There is some evidence that certain types of spinal disorders have a genetic component.
Occupational hazards. Any job that requires repetitive bending and lifting has a high incidence of back injury. Jobs that require long hours of standing without a break or sitting in a chair that does not support the back well also puts the person at greater risk.
Sedentary lifestyle. Lack of regular exercise increases risks for occurrence of lower back pain, and increases the likely severity of the pain.
Excess weight. Being overweight increases stress on the lower back, as well as other joints and is a risk factor for certain types of back pain symptoms.
Poor posture. Any type of prolonged poor posture will, over time, substantially increase the risk of developing back pain. Examples include slouching over a computer keyboard, driving hunched over the steering wheel, lifting improperly.
Pregnancy. Pregnant women are more likely to develop back pain due carrying excess body weight in the front, and the loosening of ligaments in the pelvic area as the body prepares for delivery.
Smoking. People who smoke are more likely to develop back pain than those who don’t smoke.
Article By: Stephen H. Hochschuler, MD
Exercise and Back Pain
A typical response to experiencing back pain is to take it easy - either staying in bed or at least stopping any activity that is at all strenuous. While this approach is understandable and may even be recommended in the short term, when done for more than a day or two it can actually undermine healing. Instead, active forms of back exercises are almost always necessary to rehabilitate the spine and help alleviate back pain.
When done in a controlled, gradual, and progressive manner, active back exercises distribute nutrients into the disc space and soft tissues in the back to keep the discs, muscles, ligaments and joints healthy. Consequently, a regular routine of lower back exercises helps patients avoid stiffness and weakness, minimize recurrences of lower back pain, and reduce the severity and duration of possible future episodes of low back pain.
Article written by: Peter F. Ullrich, Jr., MD