Eight in 10 Americans experience back pain at some point in their lives, and lower back pain is the most common form. The discomfort can range from a steady, dull ache to sudden, sharp sensation, and finding relief usually depends on the source of the pain.
Our backs are made of the spine (consisting of 30 vertebrae and discs), nerves, muscles and tendons, which means the exact cause of the pain isn't always obvious, even to the person experiencing it.
While some types of back pain may come and go for some, others may require medical treatment to find relief. Once back pain lasts for more than 3 months, it is considered a chronic condition, and it definitely merits contacting your primary care provider. Several of the most common causes of chronic back pain include:
• Herniated disc: the shock-absorbing cushions (discs) between the spine's vertebrae can rupture through the disk's tough exterior.
• Degenerative disc disease: wear and tear on discs that occur with age and cause cracks, small tears and loss of fluid in the discs.
• Muscle spasms: spontaneous muscle contractions occurring around the spin, which can cause sudden pain which increases with movement. Spasms may result from swollen or tender muscles.
• Spinal stenosis: narrowing of spaces within the spine, which may compress the spinal cord and nerves. This can result in pain or leg cramping when walking or standing for long periods.
There are many other possible causes of back pain, ranging from osteoarthritis to spinal fracture. While back pain is often quite treatable, treatment varies according to the cause. Therefore, back pain sufferers should start by discussing their issues with their primary care provider to work toward a diagnosis. From physical therapy to medication to surgery, there are many options that may lead to a life without back pain.
"Certain conditions can grow more serious and debilitating with time, so medical attention is imperative for those suffering from chronic back pain," said Dr. CJ Smith, a family practice physician with Monroe Clinic. "Allowing untreated back pain to decrease your mobility and independence only feeds the problem in some cases, as our backs require regular use to remain strong."
If you are looking for simple ways you can improve your back health at home, keep these tips in mind:
• quit smoking. It can further disc degeneration
• stay mindful of your posture throughout the day, whether sitting or standing
• lift with your knees, and keep heavy objects close to your body
• maintain a healthy weight
• include exercises to strengthen your core, including your abdominals, hips, back, and pelvic area
• see your doctor early on when experiencing back pain, so you can remain safely active, especially if the pain lasts longer than 4 weeks