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Back Pain: Characteristics, Causes & Treatment

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What is Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most agonizing experiences one can deal with. Whether you’re sitting idly, lying in a hammock or simply walking, sudden back pains can surely bother you. Perhaps the worst part is how they hamper your productivity. No matter how hard you try to shake it off, the pain will likely be excruciating. Not only does this hurt you physically, but it can also impact you psychologically.

Contrary to popular belief, back pains don’t seem to impact one specific age range. Everyone gets them — senior citizens, adults, teenagers and even kids (x). But why? Aren’t they exclusive to the elderly? What does it mean to have an aching back? How do I get rid of the pain?

Types of Back Pain

Unfortunately, back pains are triggered in different parts of the back at varying degrees. These are all dependent on the underlying disorder, or the extent of stress exerted on the aching portion of your back. Back pains may occur on the nape, in the middle of your back, the lower part or even in its upper area.

Upper and Middle Back Pain

This type of back pain is characterized by mild to extreme degrees of soreness on the upper and central area. These portions of the back are located between the bottom of the ribcage and the base of the neck. The middle and uppermost back consists of the first 12 bones scientifically called the thoracic spine. That’s why this condition is also known as thoracic spine pain or TSP (x).

Stressed muscles, injuries and poor posture often cause this discomfort. Although less common than lower back pain, upper and middle back discomfort shouldn’t ever be ignored. Pain in the upper and middle part of the back can be a symptom of severe disorders.

Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a more typical case compared to upper back pain. It is often attributed to working habits, which are known as the top cause of this type of back discomfort. There are two known types of lower back pain — acute and chronic. Acute back pain is characterized by soreness lasting for a few days to a few weeks. The kind that lasts for more than three months is what is known as chronic lower back pain (x).

Apart from work as one of its leading causes, lower back pain is usually seen in adults aged 30-50 because certain fluids in the vertebrae start to decrease in volume. These liquids are needed to keep the spine strong and healthy.

Neck Pain

Although the neck does not constitute the back, soreness in the neck area is still linked to back problems. The reason is due to the fact that the base of the neck and the upper region of the back share the same area called the thoracic region (x).

If you feel any pain in the nape, the back part of your neck, you may want to consider the possibility of upper back problems.

Causes of Back Pain

Depending on the severity, back pain causes manifest from the simplest activities to the most intense conditions. Browse through the list below and see which ones are most likely behind your back pain.

Posture and Locomotion

Observe yourself. Are you sitting erectly? Is your back lying straight against the bed? Are your shoulders drooping as you walk? You may not have noticed, but the way you hold your body in every situation has massive effects on your back’s condition. This is why it doesn’t come as a surprise that you feel back pains mostly at work — where finishing tasks is the priority, thus you’re likely forgetting about the value of maintaining good posture.

Below is a list of positions to refrain from to avoid back pain (x). See if you ever notice doing any of these triggers:

  • Straining the neck forward (usually done in driving and using a laptop)
  • Slouching
  • Over-stretching
  • Awkwardly bending
  • Bending for lengthy periods
  • Standing or sitting for long periods (as is the case of driving without breaks)
  • Lifting too many heavy objects
  • Lifting objects in the wrong position
  • Sleeping on a lumpy mattress (not conducive for straightening the back)
  • Sleeping with your back arched
  • Sudden movements

If you have any of the ones listed, it’s best to reconsider your usual posture. Avoiding improper posture is a tough habit to break. There’s no doubt about it. However, if you do so diligently, your efforts will surely alleviate the pain.

Lack of Exercise

Interestingly, our bodies work the same way as machines in the absence of necessary locomotion. If rust is for engines, back pains are for people. Lack of movement will cause stiffness of the spine and weakening of muscles. Take a little time off every day at work to stretch and move around your office, school or home. On your days off, make sure to find time to move your body. Jog, do yoga, walk, cycle, etc. Just don’t allow your back to stay idle and fall into stagnation.

Structural Irregularities

Posture and movement aren’t the only culprits behind your back pains. At times, our bone structure may be the reason why some of us can’t become free from back pain. Read through this list to learn more about common structural disorders. If you’re demonstrating any of these conditions, seek a doctor’s consultation to diagnose your discomfort.

Osteoporosis

Back pain can be a result of the thinning of bones, which can cause porosity. When brittleness gets the best of your spine, this can cause aching of the back (x).

Osteoarthritis

This condition occurs when the cartilage cushioning the ends of the spinal bones break down and these ends meet to form the vertebrae. When movement occurs, the weak vertebrae can irritate the back, thus making it excruciatingly painful (x).

Bulging and Ruptured Disks

Disks serve the purpose as cushions to each vertebra of the spine. When they become ruptured or protrude, more pressure is applied on a nerve or set of nerves, which results in back pains.

Scoliosis

A twisted or curved spine is called scoliosis. This condition results in the ribcage’s relocation from its normal position. As a result, excessive strain is applied to the muscles of the back, hence creating pains and discomforts.

Pregnancy

Expectant women are also at risk of suffering from back pains. Not only do they eat for two, but they also have the burden of carrying two. Added weight on the body caused by the infant exerts added pressure on the spine, which causes an increased risk when the pregnant woman stands.

To protect the back, positions like sitting or lying down exemplify more advisable choices. Consuming food and beverages rich in calcium may also help relieve back pain.

Causes of Back Pain

Supplements for Back Pain

Proper posture and regular exercises are not the only back pain remedies available. Below are some supplements to possibly treat your back pain.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

These supplements are known to possibly relieve arthritis pain. If you have this condition, you might want to consider them. According to a study performed in 2016, supplementing with glucosamine had a positive effect in treating osteoarthritis (x).

Just be careful with your dosages. These supplements have been known to react with blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin. If you are taking these medicines, it is best to consider other back pain supplements.

Methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)

This supplement has been scientifically proven to relieve pain caused by arthritis. When supplementing with MSM, take 1,000-1,300 milligrams up to four times per day (x).

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are also linked to back pain relief. Be careful, however, as this supplement can also interfere with blood-thinning medications and increase the risk of bleeding.

Bromelain

Bromelain allegedly can reduce inflammation. This supplement is not advisable for people with peptic ulcers and those taking blood-thinning and antibiotic medications. A review of clinical studies found that taking 400 milligrams of bromelain daily relieved osteoarthritis (x).

Other Supplements

There are some natural remedies that may soothe back pain. These include herbs such as turmeric, willow bark, devil’s claw and capsaicin cream. Although they are naturally made, supplements require caution.

When to See a Doctor

As the term already implies, back pains suggest problems in your back to rectify. However, a troubled back can often be a sign of another ailing body part. In turn, seek professional help because some disorders are linked with back pain, as noted (x):

  • Kidney failure
  • Spinal cancer
  • Problems with one’s bladder
  • Bowel troubles
  • Sciatica (pain spreading to the back of the legs)
  • Infections
  • Dysfunctional sex organs
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Endometriosis

Again, consult a doctor when your back pain spreads to other parts of your body. There are instances when those suffering from backaches also experience complications with controlling one’s bladder. At times, the mere act of coughing can trigger back pain that lasts for days. Fever can also result in back discomfort. When you feel any pain or irritation in any part of your body that does not reside in the back, visit a doctor immediately.

The Bottom Line

In sum, back pain is a major discomfort. Pain in the upper area, the middle and lower portions reflect conditions that occur to any age range. While an excruciatingly painful condition, back pain relief is possible. Observing proper posture and regular exercise are among the most cost effective remedies. There are also supplements available for this particular condition. Herbs are another option worth considering for touted therapeutic properties.

Contrary to its name, back pain is not a problem merely confined to the back alone. Your back problems may be a warning of a more severe underlying condition that you are unaware of having. In this case, professional help is essential. Have yourself checked right away before your unknown situation escalates into something much worse.

About the author

Christian Jean Francia


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