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If you have ever had lower back pain stop you from doing what you want, you’re not alone! Lower back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the world. It is a leading reason why people visit a doctor, affecting more than 80% of adults at some point in their lives. According to the Global Burden of Disease—a significant study published in the Lancet medical journal—lower back pain is also a leading cause of disability. The good news is that back pain need not govern how you live your life.

Five red flags you must know

Most back pain isn’t dangerous, but it’s important to learn the “red flag” situations that require immediate medical attention. These include:

• back pain that occurs at the same time as a fever

• leg weakness that comes on abruptly or gets progressively worse

• loss of bowel or bladder control

• pain that worsens instead of getting better

• inability to find a comfortable position for sitting or sleeping during times when you feel back pain

This list is not exhaustive, but these symptoms if experienced, should alert you to seek an immediate consult by a medical professional, as it warrants more than just an over-the-counter solution.

What causes back pain?

The most common cause is SPINE related conditions.

Back pain often happens because something is off in the way your spinal joints, muscles, discs, and nerves fit together and move. Your doctor can check to see if you have:

1. Herniated or slipped discs: If your doctor mentions this, the soft tissue in the discs between your joints has come out. It’s usually caused by wear and tear. Herniated discs can cause pain in your lower back or hip because the nerves there are pressed.

Cervical radiculopathy: This is a pinched nerve. It’s usually caused by a bone spur or a herniated disc.

2. Bulging discs: These protrude, or “bulge,” but not as much as with a herniated disc. You don’t usually have symptoms with this. You’ll feel it if it compresses a nerve root, though.

3. Degenerative disc disease: The discs, or “shock absorbers” between your spine’s vertebrae, shrink or tear. That causes the bones to rub together. This may happen as you get older.

4. Inflammation and wear of the sacroiliac joint: This lies where your spine and pelvis come together. It doesn’t move much, but it’s important because it moves the load of the upper body to the lower body. Swelling and wearing away of the joint cartilage can happen after an injury, because of arthritis, infection, or even pregnancy.

5. Spinal stenosis: If you have this, your spinal canal has narrowed. That adds pressure on your spine and nerves. As a result, your legs and shoulders probably feel numb. This happens to many people older than 60.

Accidents and Injuries

Car accidents, falls, muscle sprains, strains and fractures are also causes of back pain. Injuries can lead to some of the physical problems, but some can cause pain all on their own. Injuries to ligaments, muscles, and tendons that support the spine and its joints can lead to back pain. This often happens when you lift something and twist at the same time. It can also happen because of car accidents and sports injuries.

Lifestyle Triggers

Back pain can be brought on by things you do — or don’t do — in your day-to-day life, like:

• Slouching at your desk

• Lifting heavy objects incorrectly

• Being overweight

• Not exercising

• Wearing high heels

Emotions in Play

Don’t underestimate the power of feelings to bring on pain. Stress can lead to muscle tension in the back, and depression and anxiety may make the pain feel even worse.

Medical conditions to consider

Back pain can also be caused by medical conditions like:

Arthritis: This is a joint disease that causes stiffness, swelling, and inflammation

Osteoarthritis: This type of arthritis happens when your cartilage and bones break down. This most often affects people from middle age onward.

Ankylosing spondylitis: This is a type of arthritis that affects your joints and ligaments along the spine.

Scoliosis, or curvature of the spine: This is usually something you have from birth. If there’s pain, it typically starts in mid-life.

Tumors: In rare cases you can get them in your back. They’re usually spread by a cancer that started somewhere else in your body.

Prevention

You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics.

To keep your back healthy and strong:

1. Exercise. Regular, low-impact aerobic activities, those that don’t strain or jolt your back, can increase strength and endurance in your back and allow your muscles to function better. Walking are good choices, even walking up and down stairs.

2. Build muscle strength and flexibility. Abdominal and back muscle exercises which strengthen your core, help condition these muscles so that they work together like a natural corset for your back.

3. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight strains back muscles. If you’re overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.

4. Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of low back pain. The risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, so quitting should help reduce this risk. Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Smoking also increases the risk of osteoporosis and impedes healing. Coughing due to heavy smoking may also cause back pain.

Avoid movements that twist or strain your back. Use your body properly:

1. Stand smart.

Don’t slouch. Maintain a neutral pelvic position. If you must stand for long periods, place one foot on a low footstool to take some of the load off your lower back. Alternate feet. Good posture can reduce the stress on back muscles.

2. Sit smart.

Choose a seat with good lower back support, armrests and a swivel base. Placing a pillow or rolled towel in the small of your back can maintain its normal curve. Keep your knees and hips level. Change your position frequently, at least every half-hour.

3. Lift smart.

Avoid heavy lifting, if possible, but if you must lift something heavy, let your legs do the work. Keep your back straight — no twisting — and bend only at the knees. Hold the load close to your body. Find a lifting partner if the object is heavy or awkward.

Depending on the cause of your pain, your treatment could include lifestyle changes, medication, or possibly surgery. Talk with your doctor if your back pain is affecting your daily activities. They can help you discover what’s causing the hurt and can help you improve your wellbeing.