Back Pain Can Be Such a Pain, but You’re Not Alone

Whether it’s a dull ache that just won’t go away or a sudden pain that stops you in your tracks, back pain is one of those problems that many of us will experience at some time in our lives. The reasons for back pain are varied, but there are a few factors that increase the risk, such as:

  • Age – back pain may increase as we get older
  • Weight – putting on too many pounds can cause stress and pain in the back
  • Fitness – being out of shape can lead to back pain
  • Illness – both arthritis, infections, kidney stones, endometriosis and certain cancers can lead to back pain
  • Smoking – yes, those cigarettes can even lead to pain in the back
  • Race – black women are two to three times more likely than white women to have their lower spines slip out of place

Prevention, Prevention, Prevention

As you might guess, one of the best ways to avoid back pain is through exercise and stretching. Being fit both strengthens your muscles and gives them support. In addition to working out, maintaining your weight or losing a few pounds can ease stress on your back. And speaking of support, make sure your diet contains enough Vitamin D and calcium to keep those bones strong. The Mayo Clinic suggests three factors to keep in mind to prevent back pain:

  • Stand smart – keeping good posture can reduce stress on your back muscles
  • Sit smart – try to make sure your chair has strong back support. And if you’re sitting for a long time, change your position or get up and walk around a little bit
  • Lift smart – make your legs do the work if you have to lift something heavy. Keep your back straight, bending only at the knees. And finally, keep the load close to your body.

Backs Are Big

But why is back pain so hard to manage? One of the reasons that back pain can be difficult to treat is that it’s an incredible combination of bones, muscles and nerves. It not only has to provide support, it also needs to be flexible. In addition, it also protects your spinal cord, which contains the nerves that help control your movements. Given the critical role it plays, it’s not surprising that problems arise.

Along with the increased risk factors, back pain can arise through accidents, overuse or injuries such as lifting something that’s too heavy, or even by carrying a heavy shoulder bag. However, back pain can also come about through bad posture or bending the wrong way, so if you’re slumping in your chair you need to straighten up!

Knowing When to See the Doctor

Nobody wants to spend time at the doctor if they don’t have to, so here are a few things to consider before making an appointment:

  • Back pain that has not improved with rest
  • Numbness or tingling in your back
  • Back pain that is accompanied by numbness in your extremities, fever, trouble urinating or general weakness

If you do schedule an appointment with a doctor, make sure that she or he knows what medications you’re taking along with any other medical issues you may have. For back pain, these tests may include the following:

  • X rays
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan or others
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), medical tests don’t always show the cause of back pain. In fact, back pain can get better even if the cause is unknown. Typically, treatment can involve hot or cold packs (or both), medications ranging from aspirin to prescription drugs. Along with medications, behavior changes such as learning how to put less stress on your back may be part of treatment. The bottom line, however, is simple: if you have back pain, talk with your doctor about how you might get some relief.

Sources: What is Back Pain? Fast Facts: an Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health Service. November 2014. Downloaded July 2017

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