Back Pain Causes

What causes back pain, and who is affected?

Back pain is one of the most common widespread ailments and affects men and women of all ages. 

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The spinal column is one of the load-bearing elements in the human body, made up of 24 vertebrae, which connect intervertebral discs that permit them to move relative to one another.

The sacrum and, finally, the coccyx form the end of the spine.Pain can develop in any one or all three of the sections of the spine - the cervical (neck), the thoracic and the lumbar spine.

Back pain is caused by diseases or injuries of the discs (for example, a prolapsed intervertebral disc) or joints between the vertebrae (for example, wear and tear, so-called "osteoarthritis of the facet joints") or by other conditions.

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Types of back pain

"Acute" back pain usually lasts for up to six weeks. If it continues beyond this period for up to 12 weeks, called "subacute", back pain that persists after 12 weeks is "chronic back pain".

Depending on whether unequivocal physical causes and findings are present or whether there are no recognisable causes, we distinguish between non-specific back pain and specific back pain.

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Symptoms and complaints

Almost everybody has experienced a "jab" or slight pain in the back.

"It's my back again" is a phrase we often hear, and our backs put up with a lot of stress daily. Hours spent sitting in the office, slumped posture in front of the PC, heavy lifting and carrying or bending down doing the gardening: a little back pain is part and parcel of daily life.

If your symptoms last longer, take them seriously. Does the pain radiate into the arms or legs if specific movements hurt?

Do you have a feeling of numbness? For example, while a prolapsed disc can cause unbearable pain that radiates into a leg, wear and tear of the joints between the vertebrae is felt more as dull, deep-seated back pain.

The same quality and severity of pain varies from patient to patient and depends on whether he has an acute injury, a muscular condition or wear and tear of the spine.

Depending on the clinical picture, breathing may also be painful, for example, when the thoracic spine is affected, while headache and dizziness can result from pain in the cervical spine.If the symptoms persist or return, it is advisable to consult a doctor, describe the pain's characteristics, and receive advice on what possible treatments are available for your back pain: these options range from wearing a support or brace to taking medication or physiotherapy or even an operation.

An essential treatment element is a regular exercise program: this strengthens the muscles, stabilises the spinal column and prevents pain.

The most common causes of back pain

1. Stress leads to back pain.

Sedentary occupations and a lack of physical exercise in everyday life can give rise to muscular tension and back pain, even if the spine is healthy.Did you know that psychological tension, such as stress at work or in our private lives, causes the body to become tense?

2. Slipped discs

Discs interposed between the vertebral bodies act as shock absorbers and can withstand great tension and compression loads. They prevent vertebral bodies from rubbing against each other. If the discs' elasticity diminishes, the fibrous outer ring can tear. The gel-like nucleus then prolapses inside the disc to cause a slipped disc.

If the prolapse presses on a nerve root, it can cause pain in the arm or leg with associated abnormal sensations such as pins and needles or numbness. A prolapse might even result in muscular paralysis.

3. Locking

Poor posture or heavy lifting can displace intervertebral tissue, which results in faulty posture and functional disorders of the lumbar spine – also called "locking".

Locking may also affect the joints between the vertebrae. One of the consequences is that the surrounding musculature goes into spasm, and the patient adopts a guarding posture to ease the pain. This postural guarding puts more stress on other back parts, and the pain can spread.

4. Degenerative changes

As we grow older, our spines are affected by changes due to wear and tear (so-called "degenerative changes"), such as osteoarthritis.

Degenerative means that the consequences of wear and tear are irreversible, although many respond well to treatment, for example, through medical devices.

Wear and tear of the intervertebral discs cause the joint surfaces between the vertebrae to rub harder against each other. This overloading leads to joint degeneration, called osteoarthritis of the facet joints if it affects the joints between the vertebral bodies (facet joints).

5. Muscular causes

Muscles stabilise the lumbar spine. The muscles over the front and sides of the abdomen also play an essential role here. Stable torso musculature relieves stress. The lumbar spine safeguards intervertebral discs and facet joints against overstrain.

Back pain can develop if the muscles are weak or have developed asymmetrically. Individual muscles can be overloaded, grow hard or even shortened, caused by poor posture, too little exercise, one-sided sports or stress.

6. Deformities

The cause of back pain may differ, for example, in the feet. Our feet carry us through the day and bear our entire body weight, thus exposing us to tremendous stress.

Therefore, faulty foot architecture can also be a cause of back pain. Also, leg length differences can lead to pelvic tilt and, ultimately, to back pain.

The good news - Many back problems resolve on their own within a few weeks.

Non-specific low back pain is helped mainly by mobilisation treatment and, after consulting a doctor, by taking medication.

Exercises to strengthen the musculature may also be suitable.

Prevention – tips for a strong back

All of us can relieve the strain on our backs in everyday life and ward off pain.

Exercise regularly: even three moderate training sessions of 45 minutes per week increase our well-being, bolster the immune system and keep us fit and agile.

Gentle sports such as swimming or power walking are particularly kind to our joints.

Healthy diet: a balanced diet keeps us fit and helps us reduce overweight and relieve strain on the back.

Clever lifting: whenever we lift heavy objects, we should squat down and put the strain on our leg muscles instead of "putting our back into it".

Carry properly: carrying heavy objects close to the body is best. Avoid one-sided loading of one arm.

Stay active: everybody who spends long hours sitting at a desk should grab every opportunity to move around – for example, climb the stairs instead of taking the lift, stand up now and then when on the telephone or go for a walk at lunchtime.

Treatment of back pain

A variety of methods can treat back pain. The doctor treating you will decide whether conservative treatment (without an operation) is possible or if you will require surgery in a severe case.

Medical devices
Which medical devices are available, and how do the medical devices for treating back pain differ?

Physiotherapy and massage
Special back exercises under medical supervision during physiotherapy are designed based on the patient's requirements. These can mobilise the spine, relieve tension and strengthen the torso musculature. Massages, ultrasound therapy or electrotherapy, can promote healing and relieve pain.

The doctor decides which exercises are most appropriate for the patient. medi's physiotherapy exercises are very suitable for many patients. For example, they help strengthen the spine and ease the pain.

Medication and ointments
Medication that relieves pain or inhibits inflammation and ointments can help relieve pain in the short term and prevent uncomfortable postural guarding. You should consult a doctor before taking any tablets.

Keep moving to stay fit - the 2 x 8 of practical back exercises.

Strong muscles around the spinal column protect it against wear and tear, muscular tension and pain. Alleviate pain with regular physical exercise, special activities for the spine, and gentle sports such as swimming or power walking.

Patients can complete a set of 20-minute exercises that strengthen and stretches their back. It would be ideal if you could go through this programme twice a week.

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