Oh, My Aching Back! (Part One)
If you are like most human beings, at some point in your life, these four words will pass through your lips as you wince in pain….“Oh, my aching back!” The good news is that there are practical steps that can be taken to ease this common discomfort, and better yet, avoid it altogether! This is the first of a two part series. In the first blog we’ll cover the most common causes of back pain and the three most frequent injuries that are the source of this pain. The second part will cover trusted tips for prevention.
Here are the most common causes of back pain:
Posture is the position of your body both at rest and during activity. Proper posture of the spine involves maintaining the three natural curves of the spine. In a healthy spine, the neck and low back curve inward slightly and the upper back curves outward. Maintaining these curves distributes pressure evenly around the discs, reduces stress on muscles and ligaments, lessens wear and tear on the important facet joints, maintains the space needed for nerves to exit through the spinal canals, and helps to support proper muscle balance for the abdominal and low back muscles.
Faulty Body Mechanics
Loading your spine with an external load while it is out of alignment, or when the load is held out away from your body when it is in the proper alignment, is very stressful on the spine! When either of these two situations occur, the discs, facet joints, ligaments, and muscles can easily become overloaded. Overload-type injuries most often occur due to repetitive bad habits over time as opposed to a single event that you’re aware of.
Stressful Living and Work Habits
Slumped sitting for prolonged periods of time, sitting with your back unsupported, jumping off of a high place such as trucks or loading docks, sleeping on a soft unsupportive mattress, hobbies or interests at home that are stressful on the spine, and even psychosocial stressors can all affect your spine adversely.
Loss of Flexibility
Loss of spinal and leg flexibility significantly increases your risk of a low back injury.
Decline of Physical Fitness
People in poor physical condition are far more likely to experience spinal injuries. Most jobs can be performed without injury if we are willing to maintain an adequate fitness level.
Such things as falling, motor vehicle accidents, or losing control of a load can result in injuries. Injuries caused by accidents are typically much worse in an individual who is in poor physical condition. Poor habits and flexibility serve to complicate recovery.
Less Common Causes
Other situations which can contribute to an increased risk for back injuries include: birth defects, metabolic changes, infection, tumors, bad genetics, psychosomatic issues, smoking, poor nutrition, and age.
The most common types of back injuries fall into three categories:
- Muscle or Ligament Strain or Sprain: Strains and sprains are definitely the most common type of back injury. Lifting too much weight, or repetitive lifting when you are using a poor technique, can cause excessive stretching of the muscle or ligament tissue beyond their normal limit. Excessive stretching often results in tearing of the muscle and ligaments. The amount of damage, or tearing, often determines the length of time required to heal, and the amount of discomfort you will experience.
- Bulging or Ruptured Disc: Sometimes it will be called a “slipped disc” but in actuality, discs do not in fact slip, they are very firmly anchored. Disc injuries occur when the disc wall bulges or tears and often will be felt by you as a sharp leg pain. A bulging or ruptured disc is fairly rare and only occurs in a small percentage of all back injuries and they are often treated successfully without surgery.
- Facet Joint Syndrome: We each have small joints between and behind adjacent vertebrae all along the spinal column – these are called facet joints. When a facet joint is overstretched (especially when twisting) the capsule often gets nipped causing bruising and pain. Facet pain is also associated with aging because discs naturally degenerate over time which causes facet joints to come in closer contact. This close proximity in turn leads to increased wear in the joint. Exercise and good posture are very helpful in reducing facet joint issues associated with aging.
In our next blog you can learn how to reduce the chances that you will experience back pain or an injury. Prevention techniques used faithfully will be your back’s friend!