Anyone who has ever suffered chronic back pain understands that the experience can be excruciating. Unfortunately, chronic back pain is a very common condition in this country and at least 100 million American adults suffer from back pain on a daily basis.
Fortunately, by understanding back pain’s most common causes, individuals who suffer from this uncomfortable and persistent problem can learn how to prevent it in the future.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain results from a variety of things, the most common of which are skeletal problems and muscular or ligament strain. In many cases, back pain comes on slowly, as the result of an underlying problem. Occasionally, however, back pain comes on suddenly as the result of a traumatic injury or acute spinal disc problem. Generally, back pain originates from one of the following causes:
Common skeletal deformations such as scoliosis or birth defects can easily cause back pain. Fortunately, these conditions are rare and, when detected early, can often be rectified with chiropractic care or physical therapy.
Muscle strain is one of the leading causes of back pain and often results when people move in unnatural ways or lift heavy items. People who are in poor physical condition are more likely to experience muscle strain and, when lifting heavy items, may also experience accompanying muscle spasms.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones throughout the body to become weak and brittle. When osteoporosis affects the spine, it can result in the formation of compression fractures and hairline cracks. Because of this, people suffering from osteoporosis often experience back pain that ranges from moderate to debilitating.
Spinal discs serve the important purpose of cushioning the vertebra in the spine. Spinal discs are constructed like small pillows and filled with a soft material known as mucoprotein gel. Under extreme pressure, however, the disc can rupture or bulge to one side or another, resulting in undue strain on spinal nerves and considerable back pain. In rare occasions, however, patients may have bulging or ruptured disks and no back pain at all.
In older individuals, back pain is most often caused by arthritis. Osteoarthritis is very common in the lower back and, in severe cases, can cause the entire spinal column to narrow down around the cord in a condition called spinal stenosis. Patients suffering from spinal stenosis will be in great pain but, fortunately, can often find relief through surgery.
Who is at Risk for Back Pain?
Back pain affects people of all ages across all demographics. There are, however, some specific risk factors that place certain populations at increased likelihood for chronic back pain.
Age is a direct risk factor for back pain and individuals beyond the age of 40 are at increased risk for back pain due to deteriorating spinal structure and increasing stiffness in joints.
Out of Shape Individuals:
Poor physical condition directly contributes to an increased risk for back pain. When individuals are obese or lacking muscle strength, the spine is forced to absorb more strain, which often leads to back pain. Additionally, abdominal muscles play an important role in preventing back pain and, when a person is in very poor physical condition, the abdominal muscles cannot preform well enough to hold the spine in ideal position.
In the later months of pregnancy, the weight of the baby and all accompanying tissues and fluids is centered on the low spine. In order to support the weight, the spine is pulled forward, which often causes considerable back pain. The pain is worsened when a woman is forced to stand, sit or lie down for a very long time. Fortunately, pregnancy-induced back pain is temporary and can often be mitigated with chiropractic care and massage.
Individuals Who Lift Heavy Objects:
People who lift heavy loads, such as movers and construction workers, are at incredible risk for back pain if they don’t maintain proper lifting form. Because lifting weighty objects puts considerable strain on the back, these individuals have a very high risk of slipping or rupturing disks or injuring muscles or ligaments.
Individuals who Smoke:
Smoking makes it difficult for the body to deliver adequate nutrition to bones and, as such, can often result in severe and chronic back pain. In most cases, ceasing to smoke and adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle is enough to remedy smoking-induced back pain.
Although rare, some types of cancer or tumors can cause back pain by pressing directly on the spinal column or its associated nerves and muscles.
How to Prevent Back Pain
Even though back pain is so common, there are many ways to prevent it from occurring. Most people who suffer from back pain will benefit from simply adopting a healthier lifestyle, which means including more dietary fiber, vegetables, fruits and water into the diet. Individuals who smoke should stop as soon as possible and people in poor physical shape will find relief from back pain by beginning an exercise regiment designed to strengthen muscles and improve overall condition.
Additionally, everyone who suffers even occasional back pain will benefit from practicing good posture. Unbeknownst to most people, poor posture is one of the leading causes in the muscle strain and weakness that often causes back pain. Because of this, people who lift heavy objects often should invest in a back brace designed to support proper posture of the spine and associated muscles during heavy lifting. In addition to wearing the brace, these individuals should avoid bending at the waist and should, instead, lift at the knees.
Finally, people who suffer from chronic back pain may find powerful prevention in the form of a stretching practice like Yoga or Tai Chi. These practices are designed to gently condition muscles and can be very beneficial for keeping the spine aligned and preventing future back pain from occurring.
Older individuals who are suffering from back pain caused by arthritis or osteoporosis can benefit from seeing a doctor regularly. Depending upon the type of back pain, these individuals may benefit from physical therapy, chiropractic work or a light yoga practice. Additionally, better nutrition, ample water intake, healthy lifestyles and plenty of light-impact physical activity are ideal for keeping the spine in great shape at any age.
Although back pain is a common and uncomfortable condition, it can be treated and prevented in a variety of ways, which means that patients can live happier, healthier lives with less back pain.