A healthy spine is an often-overlooked and essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Unfortunately, approximately 80% of the population suffers from spinal pain at some point.
Back pain often happens because something is off in the way your spinal joints, muscles, discs, and nerves fit together and move.
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.
- Pregnancy: The weight you gain when you’re expecting can strain your back.
- 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.
- Less-common causes of back pain are:
- Kidney stones and infections
- Endometriosis, a buildup of uterine tissue outside the uterus)
- Osteomyelitis or discitis, infections in the bones and discs of the spine
- Fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread muscle pain
Who is at risk
- People over age 30 or 40 are more at risk for back pain than younger individuals. People age 30 to 60 are more likely to have disc-related disorders, while people over age 60 are more likely to have pain related to osteoarthritis
- Occupational hazards
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excess weight
- Poor posture
- Muscle ache
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down your leg
- Pain that worsens with bending, lifting, standing or walking
- Pain that improves with reclining
What you can do
- Strengthen your core muscles via targeted exercises including aerobics, flexion (bending forward) and extension (bending backward) stretches.
- Avoid putting undue stress on your spine by practicing proper posture.
- Avoid lifting objects that are heavier than 25% of your own body weight.
- Eat a balanced diet that includes anti-inflammatory foods and vitamin D to keep your bones strong.
- If you’re a smoker, get the help you need to stop.
- Consider buying a better, more supportive mattress or trying a new sleeping position if you have trouble with your back in the morning.
- If you suffer from chronic back pain, talk to your doctor to learn the cause and best treatment options while avoiding further injury.
- If you encounter lots of stress on a daily basis, find ways to relax and loosen your back and neck muscles at the end of each day.
- Remember that depression can play a significant role in back pain. Seek help if you need it in the form of counseling and relaxation methods.
- Be practical about your exercise routine. Avoid overdoing it with repetitive movements that can lead to muscle strains and sprains.
- Treat strains and sprains that do occur with rest, ice, compression and elevation as soon as possible, and consult a medical professional if your pain is recurring or persists more than two weeks.
- Talk to your doctor about over-the-counter medications for controlling pain and inflammation.
Because many different conditions may cause back pain, your doctor will take a thorough medical history as part of the examination. Your doctor will then give you a physical exam. Because most people have improved within 30 days after the pain starts, most doctors will not order tests in their initial evaluation of acute, uncomplicated back pain. The tests will not help you feel better faster.
If your back pain is due to significant trauma or the back pain does not get better in the first 30 days, your doctor may refer you for imaging tests.
Depending on the cause of your pain, your treatment could include lifestyle changes, medication, or possibly surgery.
If you have a back ache, don’t assume you just have to live with it. Talk to your doctor about the cause and what you can do to feel better.