What is Back Pain?

Back pain is a huge problem all over the world affecting both men and women alike, and strikes every type of worker, from truck drivers and labourers, to executives and homemakers.

Although back pain is common, when you are the one who has it, it may seem that no-one else can truly understand your suffering. The pain can influence your sleeping habits, and your ability to work and function normally. The pain may be worse on bending forward, sitting, standing, turning over in bed and even walking .

Mechanical back pain is the most frequent cause of low back pain and usually does not signify any serious underlying problem. Therapy will normally sort it out within a few days to a few weeks.

Back pain can come on suddenly or gradually. It may begin with what appears to be little cause, or can follow an obvious strain or injury. Back pain may not only be felt in the back, but could also cause buttock and/or leg pain due to the close relationship between the spine and the nerves which travel down the legs.

The back is composed of a complex arrangement of muscles, ligaments, bones, joints and nerves and the lower back supports 70% of our body weight. The spine is actually an ‘s’ shaped stacked column of bones called ‘vertebrae’. The vertebrae are connected to each other by joints which allow the spine to bend forwards, backwards, and side to side.  In between the ‘vertebrae’ are structures called discs. These have a much higher water content than bone and help to absorb pressure and load through out the spine. When any one of these structures becomes worn, injured or inflammed, back pain can occur.

When we are born the discs have a very high water content, but as we get older these discs become less hydrated and more fibrous. This is known as ‘degenerative disc disease’ (DDD). Just like grey hair and wrinkles, this is the normal ageing process and occurs at varying rates depending on the individual – it can start as early as your 20s! DDD can be the cause of low back pain and can often be aggravated by activities involving bending, twisting or compression, for example gardening and prolonged sitting. When the disc becomes highly irritated it can start to affect the nerve as it passes past the disc through a small tunnel before travelling down the leg. This could be the cause of buttock or leg symptoms.

Joints in the back can also cause problems like any other joint in the body. Minor injuries, excessive movement and arthritis can all cause joints to become inflammed, tender and painful.

The muscles of the back help to support the spine and when these muscles go into spasm, the most common form of back pain occurs. This often happens after doing something strenuous, something that involves a lot of bending such as gardening or when you have been in an awkward position for a long time and go to move.

The ‘S’ shape of your spine is important to help dissipate the load from your day to day activities. It is therefore important to maintain these natural curves in the lower neck and back, otherwise the ligaments, muscles, joints, nerves and discs can be put through abnormal stresses, which may cause pain. We rely on the use of deep abdominal and back muscles (‘core muscles’) to help maintain these curves and thus support the back. Unfortunately, research has shown that during and after a period of low back pain these muscles become less effective and do not return to full strength automatically despite the reduction in pain. This can therefore make the back more vulnerable and potentially increase your risk factors for ongoing or recurrent low back pain.

Your posture is also a key factor to back pain. Posture is the way we hold and move our bodies. It is unique to each one of us and can be influenced by our mood, daily activities and environment. Certain posture types can cause muscle imbalances and again predispose you to an increase risk of poor core stability and back pain.

However, at The Wyndham Centre the physiotherapists can guide you through both manual treatment techniques and rehabilitation in order to improve your postural habits as well as show you how to activate and strengthen the core muscles, with the aim of reducing your back pain, and giving ‘back’ the support your body needs.

 

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