Back pain can come out of the blue. One minute you might be working away at your desk when you decide to stretch a bit, and the next second, excruciating pain shoots up from your lower back.
Lower back pain has always been a common problem for midlifers. By the time people are in their 40s, their back muscles have weakened due to overuse or strain, leading to muscular injury, spinal misalignment, and herniated disc. These days, however, back pain is not exclusive to this age group. Many younger adults in their 20s and early 30s are also experiencing back issues due to a sedentary lifestyle and bad posture.
Back pains occur as a direct result of wear and tear of the discs or due to weak back muscles. In this blog, we will discuss the common types of back pains, the symptoms accompanying them, and why it is important to get treated.
Understanding back pain
Back pains are uncomfortable and debilitating- there is no doubt in that. Our best ortho doctors in Dubai comment that it is also one of the most common types of pain that people seek for medical treatment. Back pain can affect anyone, but the risk increases with age.
There are two types of back pain. The lower back pain is linked to the bony lumbar spine, discs between the vertebrae, spinal and disc ligaments, spinal cord and nerves, lower back muscles, abdominal and pelvic internal organs, and the skin around the lumbar region. The upper back pain, on the other hand, is linked to chest tumors, spine inflammation, and heart disorders.
Of all the back pains, lumbar spine pain is the most common. This is because the lumbar spine has the least structural support all the while enduring the most strain. Due to this, this region is one of the most frequently injured regions of the spine. Back pain is often accompanied by sciatica – symptoms of pain, numbness, and/or weakness that radiate along the sciatic nerve from the lower back to the buttocks and leg- which mostly happens due to herniated disc. Here the disc pinches the sciatic nerve, leading to the “shock wave-like pain” that shoots from the lower back down the leg.
But why do people experience back pains? How does someone strain their back so much, leading to pain and injury? Here is how-
The human back is a complex structure consisting of muscles, ligaments, tendons, discs, and bones that are all connected, supporting the body and enabling us to move around. If any of these many components face an issue, it can lead to back pain.
People suffer from damage to these many structural units in different ways. It could be from muscular strain, poor posture, or medical conditions among others.
Most back pains stem from tension, strain, or injury. Muscle spasm, tension, strained muscles or ligaments, damaged disks, injuries, and fractures can occur when people engage in activities like lifting heavy things, lifting them improperly, or making an abrupt movement.
Bad posture is also another cause of back pains. Adopting a hunched sitting position at work is notoriously known for leading to back injuries in people with desk jobs. Back pain can also occur due to activities that include twisting, bending awkwardly, overstretching, pushing, pulling, lifting or carrying a heavy load, staining the neck, standing or sitting for long hours, sleeping on a poorly supported mattress, etc.
People also suffer from structural problems like ruptured discs, bulging discs, arthritis, osteoporosis, abnormal curvature of the spine, and sciatica that was mentioned before. Kidney disorders like stones or infection can also cause lower back pain.
Several medical conditions lead to back pain as well. For instance, cauda equina syndrome is a condition where the cauda equina bundle of spinal nerve roots at the lower end of the spinal cord are compressed, disrupting motor and sensory function to the lower extremities and bladder. This can cause numbness and dull pain in the lower back and upper buttocks. A tumor on the spine is another condition that can cause unexplained back pain when it presses against a nerve.
When to see an ortho doctor?
Our ortho doctors recommend getting your back pain checked if it is accompanied by other symptoms like fever, radiating pain down the legs, persistent pain, weakness in the legs, urinary inconsistency, difficulty in urinating, or numbness in the back, buttocks, or legs. By closely examining your condition, the doctor will be able to make a sound diagnosis.
You may have to take an imaging scan or other tests if the pain appears as a result of an injury or trauma, is persistent over a long period, or if it’s due to an underlying disorder needing treatment. Generally, an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan gives in-depth information about the state of bones and muscle tissues in the back, including bone defects, alignment issues, slipped disc, nerve damage, etc. The ortho doctor may also ask for a blood test if an infection is suspected.
Treatments for back pain
Once the reason for your back pain is determined, our ortho doctor may recommend specific medication, physiotherapy, or a combination of both.
As back pains do not respond to over-the-counter medication, stronger narcotic drugs like codeine or hydrocodone may be prescribed for immediate pain relief. However, these are administered strictly under observation. If the pain is due to muscular strain, muscle relaxants are used.
If the painkillers are ineffective, doctors may recommend cortisone injections- an anti-inflammatory drug- which is injected into the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord. Cortisone injection helps reduce inflammation around the nerve roots and numbs the painful areas on the back.
For back pains due to disc prolapse, patients are advised to be put on traction. Using pulleys and weights, the back is stretched out. This helps move the herniated disc into position and relieve pain.
Ortho doctors work closely with physiotherapists to help patients find relief through mild exercises and alternate therapeutic methods. Physiotherapists use heat and ice packs, ultrasound, and electrical stimulation to reach the deep muscular tissues. As the pain improves, the physiotherapists also introduce targeted exercises that improve flexibility, mobility, and strength for the back and abdominal muscles. The patients are encouraged to practice them daily to manage their pain and prevent the pain from recurring.
In rare situations where a patient has chronic back pain as a result of a major injury, ortho doctors may suggest surgical intervention. For instance, a herniated disc that causes persistent pain due to nerve compression can be cured through surgery.
Surgeries like discectomy, vertebrae fusion, artificial disc insertion, and partial removal of vertebrae are done as required, depending upon the situation.
Preventing back pains
To lower the risk of back pains, doctors recommend the following steps-
- Regular exercise
Exercising regularly helps build muscular strength, improve flexibility, and control body weight. With guided low-impact exercises like core-strengthening and flexibility training, you can ensure that your back muscles, bones, ligaments, and vertebrae are strong enough to withstand daily wear and tear.
Ensure that you are including enough calcium and vitamin D in your diet. Vitamin D increases calcium absorption, which is in turn needed for bone health. Cutting out junk foods and eating healthy also helps control body weight.
- Mind your posture
Your posture plays a crucial role in ensuring better body alignment. For instance, when you are standing, ensure that your pelvic is in a neutral position, head facing ahead, back straight and weight evenly distributed on both your legs. While sitting, ensure that your seat has good back support, armrests, and a swivel base. Keep your hips leveled and feet flat on the floor. If you are working using a keyboard, make sure your elbows are at right-angles and your forearms horizontal.
- Be careful with lifting
When lifting things bend your knees rather than your back. Keep your back straight, and your feet apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance. While lifting, tighten your stomach muscles so that your pelvis is pulled in. Most importantly, ensure that you are straightening your legs as you are lifting and not before. Also, do not lift and twist at the same time as it can sprain your back muscles unnecessarily.
- Invest in an orthopedic bed
When buying a mattress, invest in a good quality one that can evenly support the weight of your shoulders and buttocks. And make sure to use a pillow that does not force your neck into a steep angle.
Back pain can occur at any time. However, the important thing is to get help right away. By straining your back continuously and overlooking minor pains, you may push your body towards injury and chronic pain. Follow the preventive measures religiously and consult with our ortho doctor if you are suffering from any pain. Visit our orthopedic hospital in Dubai today.