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Back pain and how to prevent and treat back pain

A recent report published in conjunction with the charity BackCare cited that 13,000,000 working days are lost in th UK every year due to back-related problems. This article will look at the spine, the causes of back pain and ways to prevent and treat back pain.

The spine

The spine is made up of many small bones called vertebrae. These are separated by discs, which allow the spine to bend. This structure of vertebrae and discs is supported along its length by muscles and ligaments. The spine threads through the centre of each vertebra, carrying nerves from the brain to the rest of the body.

(BUPA, 2007)

Causes of back pain

Simple back pain is most common in adults aged 35 to 55 who are otherwise healthy. More often than not back pain is most commonly felt in the lower back (lumbar region), which may also spread to the buttocks and thighs (the lumbar muscles are closely tied to those muscles of the hamstrings and glutes) . This back pain will come and go at different times, and depending on your level of activity.

Triggers for simple back pain include:

  • poor posture  
  • sitting in a chair that doesn't provide enough back support
  • standing or bending down for long periods
  • carrying, pushing or pulling loads that are simply too heavy, or going about these tasks in the wrong way
  • Lifting heavy objects without the performance of proper form - deep knee bends, straight back etc.
  • a trip or a fall

Treating back pain

If you do happen to suffer from back pain, due to the variety of issues that may occur with a spinal pain, we suggest that you book in to see a doctor, GP or physiotherapist as soon as possible; lumbar or neck problems very rarely disappear without the intervention of medical help.

In most cases a doctor will discuss possible root causes of your back pain before making a diagnosis. Doctors and GPs make a distinction between acute pain and chronic pain. Acute pain usually goes away quickly. It's useful, because it warns you of sources of harm and tells you to protect yourself while the body heals.

Chronic pain can be just as unpleasant but lasts much longer. If you have pain in the same place for 12 weeks or more, it is likely to be classified as chronic pain. Because it lasts so long, it's of less value as a warning.

Preventing back pain

While certain back pain may be inevitable for some, making simple lifestyle changes and ensuring you maintain a correct posture can help lower your risk of injury. So what should you be doing? And what treatment is available if you do experience long-term pain?

One way to prevent back pain is exercise; however only exercises that are designed to strengthen the lumbar muscles and abdominal muscles rather than place your spine as risk of injury (performing lifting exercises with poor form).

Exercise should range from floor work (stomach, lower back and core stability) to core stretches targeting the back and neck (knees to chest stretch, lying twist stretch and head turns etc.).

Troubleshooting back pain

• Don't sit or stand for more than a few minutes in the same position. Get up, move around, or simply lean over in your chair to flex your back muscles, then arch your back to extend them.

• Avoid high-impact activities like jogging, basketball, snowboarding, skiing -- or look for ways to limit the impact (jogging on a dirt track rather than concrete, for instance).

• Road vibration and sitting in one position for long periods of time is rough on a weak back. If you drive long distances, take frequent breaks to stand up and stretch.

• There's no good evidence that back belts help prevent problems. But lifting heavy objects by bending your knees and keeping the weight as close to your body as possible avoids putting unnecessary strain on low back muscles.

(Mens Health, 2007)

But remember, if all else fails, book an appointment with your doctor or GP.

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