Understanding Back Pain

Posted by Jacqueline Carpenter on 23rd Jan 2017

According to the American Chiropractic Association almost 31 million Americans experience lower back pain at any given time. It should be no surprise that back pain is one of the most commonly used excuses for missing work and is the second most common reason for visiting the doctor. Most cases of back pain are not a result of trauma, arthritis, fracture or even cancer, but instead are a result of day-to-day activities (ACA, 2016). Regardless of the statistics, every patient is looking for one thing, relief.

The back is a complex network of muscles, tendons surrounding and connecting to the central vertebrae. Within the vertebrae, the spinal cord is housed. The spinal cord is a part of our central nervous system and connects our brain to every other nerve and electrical signal that resonates within our bodies.

Every person suffers from back pain in their own ways and for a multitude of different reasons. If it is not trauma related, a person may have an anatomical cause of their pain, such as a herniated vertebrae disc, a simple muscle strain, or it may even result from tight muscles in other parts of the body. Daily stresses, such as poor posture or repetitive lifting at work, can be the culprits.

Treatments available (Lu, 2014, Chou, 2007):

  • Physical manipulation or traction therapy: The goal is to pull the vertebrae apart from one another and increase the amount of space for nerves or relieve the cartilage discs. It can also stretch small muscles surrounding the spine. Manual traction is performed by a person, like a chiropractor, but there is mechanical traction as well.
  • Over-the-door traction systems
  • Lie-down systems and air pump devices (ie. for neck traction)
  • Inversion tables (targets lumbar portions of the back)
  • Pharmacological treatments
  • Steroids
  • NSAIDs
  • Nerve ablation
  • Physical therapy/Massage
  • Lumbar pillows
  • Foam rollers
  • Back bracing
  • Supportive wraps
  • Hot/Cold therapy to minimize inflammation.
  • Heating pads
  • Ice packs
  • Moderate exercise and stretching
  • Yoga or Pilates
  • Rest

Treatment decisions for back pain must be made on an individual basis and may rely on expert opinions. Pain can vary in intensity and frequency and should be monitored to help relay a better image of your pain profile to your physician. Pain may also be related to psychological disorders, such as depression or sleeplessness.

It is important to pay attention to what causes back pain and attempt to avoid it in the first place (ACA, 2016). As with many other disease states, back pain can be staved off by maintaining a healthy diet and weight and remaining active. Warm up prior to beginning any physical activity. When lifting, do so with your legs and knees and avoiding using your back to support a heavy load. Minimize or eliminate smoking, smoking impairs blood flow and reduces the amount of oxygen or other nutrients that can reach the spine. Last but not least, work on your posture and ensure your daily work environment will promote supportive posture.

This information is provided as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. It is important to seek advice from a physician if chronic pain occurs and before starting any medical treatments or exercise programs.

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  • 1.American Chiropractic Association. (2016) Back pain facts and statistics. https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness...
  • 2.Burke, S. (2016) Understanding different types of back pain. http://www.spine-health.com/blog/understanding-di...
  • 3.CEMM (2016). Spine Anatomy. https://www.lowbackpainatoz.org/Spine-Anatomy
  • 4.Chou R., Huffman L.H. (2007). Nonpharmacologic therapies for acute and chronic low back pain: a review of the evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guideline. Annals of Internal Med. 147(7): 492-504.