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Back pain may be felt in the upper or lower back & can stem from the spine, nerves or muscles. Pain can range from a tingling sensation to a dull ache or an intense sharp pain. You also may experience weakness in your legs or feet.
Back pain overview
Back pain, also known as lumbago affects 7 out of 10 people at some time in their lives & is the most common reason for sickness within the UK. Back pain can come on slowly or suddenly & whilst painful is usually not serious - often clearing up within 5 - 6 weeks. Whilst anyone can suffer from back pain it usually affects people between the ages of 35 to 55 years old.
If you are suffering from back pain it is important to stay as mobile & active as possible to aid recovery. Light exercise (under supervision) can also help but staying in bed or inactive actually does more harm than good.
A majority of back problem issues are defined as 'non specific' - because the pain is not attributable to a particular disease or serious damage & is often due to pinched nerves, minor injury or muscle strains.
In addition to the sensation of pain you may also suffer - swelling/ inflammation on the back; pain below the knees, pain which moves up your back or to your chest; down your legs; problems passing urine or loss of bowel control; numbness around the buttocks, genitals or anus.
Back pain, which has been present for a period of less than 3 months, is classified as Acute Pain.
Chronic Pain is the term used to described pain which has built up over 12 weeks & is causing longer-term problems. Due to the complex nature ofa spines design small amounts of damage to any part of the spine can cause a significant amount of discomfort or pain.
Your back is an intricate structure built like a tower & supports the weight of the upper body. The spine comprises 24 small bones or vertebrae with intervertebral discs. This structure enables your spine to twist & bend & absorb pressure when you run or jump. Every vertebra has a small hole in the centre, which creates a tunnel all the way down your spine. Contained within this tunnel is the spinal cord, which carries nerves & impulses from the brain to the rest of the body. Each vertebra is linked to the adjoining one by small joints, which lock together - these are called facet joints.
Ligaments hold your vertebrae & discs together & your tendons tie your muscles to the vertebrae. The ligaments are strong bands of tissue, which help guide your spines movement's preventing it from over extending or causing a movement, which could be damaging. Ligaments are not particularly flexible & can be easily overstretched.
The lower section of your back is known as the lumbar region and comprises five vertebrae, which are known as L1, L2, L3, L4 & L5.
Back pain can be triggered in a variety of ways from innocuous every day activities to more strenuous activities. Some root causes could be - poor posture/ slouching; standing up or bending over for extended periods; lifting/ pulling pushing/ carrying objects incorrectly; coughing; stretching; twisting or sitting for long periods of time in a slouched/ awkward way.
Aside from these everyday day causes of back pain some other less common sources could be as a result of bone disorders (osteoporosis), viral infection, lack of exercise; stress; kidney/ bladder infections; heavy impact (falling etc.).
Extreme back pain can result from having a slipped disc, which is when you rupture one, or more of the intervertebral discs resulting in the nucleus pulposus (a jelly like substance) applying pressure to the nerves or spinal cord. The resulting pain will usually be located around the lower back & may manifest itself via the sciatic nerve down the leg/s; thighs, feet; toes as a numbing pain or pins & needles. The sciatic nerves are the main nerves that run down your legs & you have one in each leg.
Another root cause of back pain may be simple wear & tear of your bones. As you get older your spine & discs can dehydrate (dry out) & when this happens they lose their ability to protect & cushion each other from pressure or impacts. As time goes by the bones may develop spurs (bumps) that can cause pain by pressing on nerves, which results in back pain. This natural wear & tear is known as osteoarthritis.
It is very hard to pin point a specific cause or root of a patients back pain. Usually your doctor/ practitioner won't to able to say with 100% certainty what the exact cause is. Approximately 85% of patients never have the specific cause of back pain located. Patients are broadly diagnosed with lumbago, a strain or a strain.
Describing your symptoms & undergoing a physical examination with your doctor/ therapist will be sufficient to reach a diagnosis. More often than not X rays are not required for back pain, as they won't display the cause. However if your back pain is chronic & has lasted for 12 weeks or more then a CAT scan - which can display a detailed picture of your soft tissue rather than bones - may be able to pin point problem more effectively than an X ray.
There are a variety of treatments & therapies which may ease/ cure back pain such as painkillers; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NAID); light exercise (under supervision); applying a mixture of hot/ cold compresses (for muscular pain).
Your therapist/ doctor may suggest - excess body weight (obesity) is one factor; provide exercises to strengthen your back; suggest improving your chairs/ bed/ mattress; taking regular exercise e.g. yoga, swimming, walking etc. You may also be taught how to correctly bend down/ lift objects limiting the pressure on your spine.