What are the types of back pain?
Let’s dissect the term “back pain” before we get into its causes. Back pain can be divided into three types: cervical or neck pain, thoracic or middle back pain, and lumbar or lower back pain.
Cervical/Neck Pain -
You might not be a giraffe, but your neck has more bones than you think. Right below your skull is where you’ll find these bones. If you feel tenderness, numbing, tingling, shooting pain, and lightheadedness, that’s your neck telling you to avoid turning your head or suffer a worse fate.
Thoracic/Middle Back Pain -
From the bottom of your neck down to the top of your lumbar spine (or the back of your chest between the shoulder blades) is what your middle back or thoracic spine covers. Any pain felt within this area is called your middle back pain.
Lumbar/Lower Back Pain -
We’re talking about your body’s support system, structurally speaking. The lumbar region is responsible for most of the activities that keep us mobile, as well as supporting all the weight of the upper body.
What causes back pain?
Any form of injury or muscle/ligament strain can ultimately lead to back pain. Even muscle spasms and any form of muscle injury and fractures can warrant medical attention.
People with congenital bone conditions that otherwise deviate from normal are more prone to experiencing back pain. But that’s not to say a degenerative condition is not a culprit. Below are examples:
- Scoliosis. It’s when your spine curves sideways, giving you an S-like stance. With an unknown cause, this structural problem can start at an early age and tend to get severe as a person grows older.
- Osteoarthritis. A form of arthritis, can also cause back pain that comes from the hips and the lower back.
- Bulging/Ruptured discs. A bulging disc injury, otherwise known as a slipped disc is a by-product of an injured annulus (your spinal disc’s outer section).
The fluid component, or disc nucleus, normally moves within the annulus adjusting to the pressures placed on your spine. If you injure the annulus, the wall weakens and the nucleus can press outwards on the weakened disc wall, causing your disc to bulge outwards.
- Osteoporosis. It’s a fairly common degenerative condition where the bones in your spine become brittle and porous. Osteoporosis is known to cause back pain to people who have this condition, and treatment is often directed towards strengthening and protecting the bones.
Movement and posture.
Keeping your spine in a position other than straight isn’t doing your back a favor, and unless you want to be walking half your height in the next few years, you need to avoid movements and bad posture that contribute to the decline of your spine’s health.
Are you at risk? Well if you’re male between 20-50 years old, you’re already part of the high-risk group. If you’re overweight, you increase your risk by as much as 57%, because of all the extra weight your lower back has to carry involuntarily.
Usually caused by osteoporosis, a compression fracture is essentially your backbone, or vertebral bone, shrinking because of fracture.
Osteoarthritis and spinal stenosis, the latter being caused (again) by regular wear and tear. Stenosis means the nerves traveling through our spine go through a lot of pressure because the spaces these nerves travel through are narrowed.
How do you diagnose back pain?
You don’t. But doctors and trained medical professionals have the expertise and equipment required to run a battery of tests in order to diagnose back problems. Here’s how:
Bone Scans. Your doctor may order a bone scan to rule out Spinal Osteoarthritis, bone tumors, other types of infections, bone (or spine) compression fractures, and other types of bone diseases. This is done with the help of radiotracer which is injected (in very low quantities) into your vein.
Myelogram. Another type of test that includes injecting a foreign substance into your veins is called Myelogram. During this test, a dye will help your doctor see anything out of the ordinary in your spinal cord.
Lumbar CT Scans/CAT Scans are comparable to X-rays but can give a clearer view of the bones, especially those in your spine. During a CT Scan, several images of your spine are taken, sometimes even giving you a 3D view of your soft tissue, blood vessels, and bones.
Lumbar discography is a diagnostic procedure that also includes injecting contrast material between the discs to pressurize them, while at the same time taking photos of the bones.
Blood tests may also be ordered by your doctor, so be prepared for more needles. What might they find in your blood? There’s inflammation (a complete blood count or CBC is one of the tests that may be ordered for this), infection, along with spondylitis and arthritis. Your doctor will know what to do and what to look for so when you have enough courage to actually visit the clinic, you can stop worrying.
Effects of Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back pain can have the following effects if left untreated for a long time:
Sleep Deprivation/Insomnia - Chronic pain is one of the culprits that disrupt sleep, and this isn’t at all unusual. In return, sleep deprivation makes the pain you’re feeling worse than ever, so it becomes a cycle you’re less likely to break anytime soon.
Low Productivity at Work - Statistics show that the common pain conditions show significant loss in productive time from employees. That’s costing companies hundreds of thousands of dollars when the workforce is affected by any kind of pain.
Frustration and Stress - Patients who deal with chronic back pain often find themselves focusing too much on the pain and how to reduce, if not eliminate it.
The frustration that comes with being unable to do so, when paired with the focus they often invest in the search for a solution, can cause a great deal of stress to any individual.
Muscle Atrophy - Constant and lingering pain makes you limit, if not entirely eliminate, your movements. This results in the weakening of muscles, which, in the long run, causes muscle atrophy or disuse atrophy.
Atrophy refers to the wasting or decrease in size of the muscles. Once muscle atrophy sets in, this results in more back pain, and here you are with yet another vicious cycle.
How do you manage back pain?
NSAIDs. These pain relievers can be bought over the counter and well - are the quickest way to relieve back pain. Keep in mind though, that taking more than what’s prescribed can be harmful to your health. Consult your doctor about what and how much pain medications you should take.
Heat it up or Cool it down. Once any uncomfortable pain starts pestering your daily routine, it’s time to seek the help of good ole’ hot compress to relieve it. Or apply ice wherever the pain seems to be coming from and feel the pain subside. The point is it provides comfort as it reduces swelling by constricting the blood vessels.
Stretch (or do Yoga exercises). Simple stretches such as bending forward to touch your toes can go a long way for your back pain. Stretching exercises not only help keep you flexible, it promotes healthy blood flow throughout your muscles. This helps your body quickly recover from the stresses of daily activities and reduce the risk of injury.
Yoga poses are specifically designed to condition and strengthen the muscles, including those in your back. It also targets stress. The best thing about yoga is that you can actually target specific muscle groups with every pose available because you’re more aware of your body.
Get some Zzz’s.. Maintaining the natural curve of the spine as you lay down is important to avoid - if not get rid of - back pain. This means sleeping with your head, shoulders and hips in proper alignment, which usually means sleeping on your back. If you’re not comfortable sleeping on your back, learning the correct postures for your sleeping position goes a long way to helping ease back pain.
Enough sleep will help align your spine and reduce the amount of stress you’re going to have to deal with the following morning. Heck, even your pain tolerance is affected by the amount of sleep you’re getting.
Strength exercise and massages are your new best friends. If you’re suffering from chronic back pain, you can definitely benefit a lot from strengthening exercises such as:
- knee-to-chest stretches
- lower back rotational stretches
- abdominal draw-in maneuvers
- pelvic tilts
- seated lower back rotational stretches
- lying lateral leg lifts
- cat stretches
These strengthening exercises help improve your stability and flexibility at the same time. And while you’re at it, some self-massage therapy also helps. Invest in a deep tissue massage gun for a full body vibration therapy that soothes muscle soreness and provides fast recovery from muscle soreness.
Whether or not a back pain prompted you to read this article, we hope you take a thing or two with you. Keep in mind that eating healthy, staying active and giving your body enough time to recover from everyday activities are absolute musts for optimum physical performance.
When dealing with what can progress into a crippling condition, getting worried won’t help much. It is important to keep your focus and consult with a physician right away. Pain is an extremely common physical reaction, but it doesn’t have to stop you from living your life to its fullest.