Back pain is a very common problem with around eight in 10 people in Western countries suffering from backache at least some of the time. Back pain is usually not due to any serious disease. Most episodes of back pain get better quickly. Simple analgesics (pain killers) and modification of activity is all that is needed.
However, about 50 per cent of people who get back pain will have further episodes. The first step to manage back pain is to rule out the possibility of any medical problem, such as infection or fracture (although these are rarely the cause).
Signs & Symptoms
Most people with back pain do not have any damage to their spine. The pain comes from the muscles, ligaments and joints. More persistent back pain may be associated with arthritis of the facet joints and degeneration of the discs. People with this condition may however not experience any pain. Some common causes of back pain include:
- Arthritis - osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two forms of arthritis linked to back pain.
- Muscle and ligament strains - weak muscles and ligaments are unprepared for sudden or heavy loads and are easily injured. Lifting a heavy load the wrong way, an unusual bout of exercise, or even bad posture over a period of time can hurt soft tissue.
- Osteoporosis - vertebral fracture due to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease characterised by thinning of the bones. The vertebrae can become so porous and brittle that they easily fracture. Pain is due to the fracture.
- Sciatica - the nerve that runs from the lower back into the leg is compressed by a bulging intervertebral disc, causing pain.
- Stress - one of the side effects of stress is increased muscle tension, which can lead to fatigue, stiffness and localised pain. Constantly tight muscles can create postural imbalances that may cause misalignment of the spine.
- Mothers or mothers-to-be - joints of the lower spine are loosened by hormones
- People whose work involves heavy lifting and bending
- People who sit for long periods in poorly designed work areas
- People who are unfit or lead an inactive life
- People with pre-existing neck or back problems
- People with poor mobility
- Peoplw who are overweight
Low back pain is a condition where you must help yourself – the condition may remain painful for some time, but with proper
management it should not restrict your lifestyle
- Apply an ice pack on the area for 20 minutes to reduce inflammation from a back strain
- For muscle spasms, wrap a hot water bottle in a towel and pply it to the area
- Get comfortable - try sleeping ona firm mattress with two pillows under your knees. Keep your back flat.
- Take medicine to relieve the pain only when necessary –
- avoid constant use of painkillers
- Most back pain responds to stretching, exercise or manipulation
- Exercises regularly - to improve posture and increase muscle support of the spine. Work towards doing 30 minutes of gentle exercise each day.
- Lifting and carrying - when picking up a heavy load, squat down, hold the object as close to your body as practical and lift by using your legs, keeping your back straight.
- Maintain a healthy body weight - being overweight or obese puts extra strain on your back.
- Be aware of your posture - consider your posture, particularly in seated positions, such as when driving or sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Don’t slump, keep your back upright and use support where necessary (such as a lumbar support cushion or footstool).
- Take regular breaks - when driving, standing or sitting for long periods of time, take a break at least every hour to change the position of your joints and loosen your muscles. Include a short walk and a few stretches as part of your break.
- Relaxation and pain management - learn some relaxation techniques to reduce stress levels and subsequent muscle tension. Try massage, heat or cold applications and gentle exercise.
- Change your mattress - surfaces that are too soft or too hard can aggravate a sore back. Avoid sleeping on your stomach.