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Backache: Prevention and Management

More and more people are complaining of back pain today. Back pain interferes with work, routine daily activities, and leisure. Is there a way out? Read on...

 

Nearly everyone at some point in life has experienced back pain. More than 25 million people suffer from the problem, according to the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons.

Back pain can be a shooting and stabbing twinge, with tingling or burning sensation, or pain that radiates from the back into the buttocks, thighs, and down the legs. It can be intense and short-lived, or less intense - one that lasts for weeks or even months.

Back pain can occur in any part of your back, but most people complain of lower back pain. This is not surprising, considering that it supports much of your body weight.

Our spine (back) is made up of complex structures with interconnected, overlapping elements which form the only bony link between the torso (upper body) and the legs (lower Body). The spine is formed by small bones (vertebrae) interspaced by spinal discs which act as shock absorbers.

The spine is protected by a complex, yet interdependent network of ligaments, tendons and muscles. There are, through the joints, between individual vertebrae, highly sensitive nerves supplying various parts of the body.

A disruption in the harmony of this network of ligaments, tendons and muscles results in pain. Research suggests that 80 per cent of people will experience back pain at least once at some point in their lives.

Although common, the severity and intensity may vary from person to person, with some having a dull ache over the low back, while others may complain of radiating pain down their legs. Many a time a muscle spasm in the low back acts as the basis for pain; if left unattended, this may result in muscle weakness, poor posture and vice versa.

Causes

While a sudden jerk to the back can result in pain, there may be certain underlying causes that weaken your back, making it more vulnerable to pain and trauma. Some of the likely causes of back pain are:

  • Strained muscles, ligaments and joints - they account for a majority of lower back problems
  • Aging of the spine, ligaments, and discs
  •  
  • A poorly aligned spine
  • Structural problems, such as damage to the disks
  •  
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Sciatica (Sharp, shooting pain originating in the back that travels down through the buttocks into the legs)
  • Other conditions that have nothing to do with the back, but can still cause lower back pain - this may include bladder infections, kidney stones, other kidney diseases, ovarian cysts, endometriosis in women - a gynecological condition in which cells from the lining of the uterus (endometrium) appear and flourish outside of the uterine cavity, or torsion of the testicles in men.

Prevention & Management

Though there are a host of treatments for back pain, there is also a lot you can do to prevent yourself from suffering from it.

Let us look at a few, yet important tips for good spine health:

Correct sleeping position: Sleeping well is important to your overall health. Practice sleeping on your side, not your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach puts more pressure on your spine. Invest in a supportive mattress as well as a pillow that promotes proper alignment of your back and neck.

Lift right: The most common cause of damage to the spine is incorrect posture when lifting an object. While lifting anything, stand as close to the object as you can. Use your legs rather than your back or upper body to lift the object. It will help if you bend your knees. Keep your back straight. If the object is heavy, and you feel the need for help, don’t hesitate to get help.

Maintain proper posture: ‘People sitting at their computer for 7-8 hours a day keep my business running,’ is what most orthopaedic doctors say with a smile. When people slouch over their computers and telephones, they don’t realise the damage they do to their backs and the pain it might cause. So, be sure to work at ergonomically correct workstations, at office and home. Make sure your workspace area - whether a laptop, phone, computer desk, or even your car - is set up for your height and functionality. Choose a chair that provides back support. Make sure your knees are at 90 degrees and your feet rest comfortably on the floor. Break the monotony of long periods in front of the computer with stretching exercises. If you practice good posture, you will maintain the natural contour of your back and help keep it strong.

Stretch out: If you start your day with a few good stretches, it will promote your spinal health.

Stay active: Staying active and keeping your body moving helps maintain the health of your spine. Any form of exercise is fine. Whether you make regular visits to the gym, walk, bike, swim, or play with your kids, anything that keeps you active is good for your back. Exercise also helps you to lose weight or maintain a proper weight. Being overweight can put added pressure, or stress, on the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of your lower back.

Stay hydrated: Staying hydrated is important to maintain soft tissue elasticity and fluidity in joints. Reduce stress. We probably don’t realise how stress can impact our back health. Stress causes you to tense your muscles; constant tension can cause back pain. Any activity that helps you reduce stress will help prevent back pain.

Pay attention to warning signs: It is common to have back pain once in a while. You can reduce your risk for back pain with simple lifestyle changes cited above. However, don’t ignore persistent spinal problems or pain. It can indicate a more serious problem. Left untreated, it can worsen and become severe. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and what you should do to find and treat the cause.

Relief from Backache through Exercise

Most people with long standing back pain benefit with abdominal strengthening exercises. The exercises are known as core stability exercises. The core muscles are a group of muscles around the abdomen that act as a natural brace - they also maintain the spine in proper posture.

One should remember that poor postures or muscle spasms weaken the core muscles resulting in back pain. Research also suggests that concentrating on building muscle memory is more important than just exercising to build muscles.

The following exercises are often beneficial - each can be repeated 10-20 times:

Knee roll: Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Now, slowly roll your knees to the right and then to the left.

Back extension: Lie on your stomach with your elbows placed beneath the shoulders. Now, slowly push up onto your palms so as to arch the back. Maintain this position for 10 counts.

Pelvic tilts: Lie flat on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently flatten your low back into the floor by contracting your stomach muscles (This exercise can be progressively done by altering the leg position while maintaining abdominal contraction).

Hamstring stretch: ‘Long sit’ (with legs straight) on the chair or floor and try touching your toes until you feel a pull at the back of your thigh. Maintain the stretch for 10-20 seconds.

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