Back pain is something most of us will experience in our lifetime. It could be severe and debilitating or a temporary, minor discomfort. As I was told by an orthopaedic surgeon many years ago, it is the “price we paid for walking upright”.
One Paleoanthropologist compared the development of the human spine to “stacking 26 cups and saucers on top of each other (vertebrae and discs) and then, balancing a big head on top”.
Back pain is the leading cause of missed work and is a leading cause of disability worldwide. It is the most common reason people visit the doctor.
When your back hurts, everyday tasks like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth or tying your shoes can be an agony.
Back pain can be experienced at any age but is more common as we grow older. Often due to weak and unused muscles in your back and abdomen, excess weight or obesity, arthritis, degeneration of spinal discs and osteoporosis. Back pain is commonly experienced in the low back but can also be felt mid-range between the shoulder blades or in the neck and between the shoulders.
Most commonly it occurs because of improper body mechanics when lifting, pushing and pulling. Instead of using our legs, we use our back, which results in muscle strain or even herniation (bulging) of the disks between vertebrae.
Accidents and falls can result in soft tissue injury or damage to the bony vertebrae of the spine. Swelling and inflammation can irritate the spinal cord and nerve roots. Symptoms may appear immediately or worsen over time.
Muscle ache and shooting or a stabbing pain that worsens when bending, lifting, standing or walking.
Pain that improves with lying down
Pain that radiates down your leg, into your buttock or even the groin
Most back pain will diminish with time and rest. Mild pain relievers such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen, application of warm moist heat or gentle massage can help relax the irritated muscles and nerves. Acupuncture, yoga and stretching exercises with well -trained instructors can be very helpful to relieve and prevent further episodes.
Avoid sitting for long periods of time.
If pain is prolonged, severe and unresponsive to simpler interventions, you are encouraged to seek medical care. X-rays or scans may be needed to properly diagnosis the cause of pain and direct treatments. Stronger pain medication or relaxant drugs may be prescribed. These medicines carry risks and can impact one’s ability to work, drive or operate machinery safely.
Physical therapy has been found to be one of the most effective treatments for dealing with chronic, recurrent back pain. Surgery is becoming less common and may be recommended only if structural anomalies exist that result in total immobility, loss of bowel or bladder function due to nerve compression and damage.
Back pain recurrences can be prevented through lifestyle changes such as:
Stretching and regular exercise to strengthen back, abdominal and leg muscles
Employ “Sit-Stand-Lift Smart” body mechanics when lifting or performing physical tasks
Maintaining a healthy body weight
Back pain is so common, there are now many products available to minimize back pain and discomfort such as adaptive furniture, cushions & pillows, back support braces, special shoes, etc.
Remember, think before you lift!
Submitted by Rebecca Castellano, RN
Medical Support Offshore, Ltd