Back pain is a serious issue that many Americans deal with every year. According to the American Chiropractic Association, (ACA), approximately 80% of the population will deal with back problems at some point and is a common reason to miss work and go to the doctor.
There are a lot of reasons for back pain and its causes. Some can be fixed through simple changes like exercise and changing posture. However, some might require more intense solutions like surgery.
When you experience back pain, it’s important to know the reasons why it might be happening. Understanding what causes back pain and your options to fix it will help you move on to get rid of back pain.
What Is the Cause of Back Pain?
Who gets back pain? There isn’t a specific demographic for back pain. Essentially, anyone can experience it.
Back pain can be triggered through many different ways. It can come from injuries to your spine, straining muscles and tearing muscles that cause spasms.
- Lifting Too Much. Lifting heavy objects puts a lot of strain on your back, especially when lifted incorrectly.
- Fall Related Injury. These injuries are often sudden and are difficult to control because they’re done by accident. Any jerky or quick movements done to lessen the fall, or falling and hitting your back could cause back pain.
- Posture. If you frequently slouch, don’t have a supportive chair for work or generally have poor posture, this can result in back pain over time.
- Other Injuries. Sports injuries can have long-lasting pain, especially if the sport involves player contact and heavy hits.
- Shoes. High heels can also negatively affect your back.
- Technology. With society’s focus on computers and phones, it is very easy to develop poor posture for prolonged periods of time. When working, sit up straight and have a chair that provides support for your back. Slouching while typing on a computer is a bad habit to get stuck in. Take time to get up and walk around so you’re not stuck in a position for consecutive hours. When using your phone, use your arms to hold it up so you’re not bending your neck and looking down for a long time.
Back pain can stem from issues with the spine. These can be brought on by age or injury, and can require surgery and time to fix.
- Degenerative Disc Disease. Discs between your vertebrae absorb shock. Over time, these can flatten and causes pain when the nerve is upset. This problem usually affects older people, but not all older people experience it. The pain can worsen when sitting or twisting. If the pain is disabling or you start to feel numbness or tingling in your legs, you can have surgery to replace the disc.
- Sciatica. This pain is in the lower back and the legs, which comes from a herniated disc hurting the sciatic nerve. People with sciatica have trouble standing. The sooner you recognize you have sciatic nerve pain, then your doctor will start to figure out what is affecting the nerve and come up with a treatment plan. Surgery doesn’t happen unless people with sciatica have had upwards of three months of terrible nerve pain or can’t move their legs.
- Spinal Stenosis. When a disc fails and the spinal canal narrows, people feel pain from the increased pressure on the spine. Also common in older adults, people feel weakness or tingling in legs and arms. The area affected depends what part of the spine is undergoing stenosis. Pain medications and physical therapy can help, but some people need surgery to fix the problem.
These spinal problems can be fixed by minimally invasive laser surgery. Because the surgery uses lasers to create incisions, there is a reduced recovery time and people usually feel less pain after surgery.
Parts of the Back
Strains, pinched nerves or muscle spasms are results of injury to different parts of the back. Knowing where your back pain is could help you figure out what’s wrong.
- Upper Back and Middle Back. From the base of your neck to the rib cage, your upper and middle back contains discs, muscles and ligaments and the top 12 vertebrae of your spine.
- Muscles. Upper body muscles are subject to strain.
- Discs. If a disc is deteriorated or a herniated disc is putting pressure on the spine, you will feel that pressure.
- Vertebrae. These can possibly fracture and cause back pain.
- Diagnosis Process. After discussing back issues with your doctor and give you a physical exam, they could prescribe painkillers or decide that you need an X-ray or MRI. These are usually needed to see if there’s an issue with a disc or vertebra.
- Treatment. Applying heat, ice along with exercise and possibly therapy can help alleviate back pain. If something is more serious, it could require surgery.
- Lower Back. This goes from the below your rib cage to before your legs. While the lower back could also have strained muscles, herniated discs and fractured vertebrae, other serious symptoms can travel from the lower back to the knee. Some of these symptoms are pain or numbness.
- Diagnosis Process. Like upper and middle back pain, talking with your doctor and having a physical will help determine what the issue is. Medical imaging doesn’t help as much with diagnosing with lower back pain.
- Treatment. Light exercise like walking improves and strengthens your lower back. If medication is needed, talk to your doctor.
Are You Experiencing Back Pain?
Because there are different ways to strain or hurt your back, there are corresponding types of pain. You might try and brush off a type of pain that needs attention.
- Stiff Spine. Ongoing aches around your spine could be indicative of an issue.
- Middle and Lower Back. Chronic tightness or aching can occur after standing or sitting for a long time. If you’re going to be standing, stretching might help prevent pain in the future. If you’re sitting, like going for a long car trip, make sure or you’re taking frequent breaks to get out and walk.
- Sharp Pains. These usually target a specific area and might occur after participating in vigorous activity or lifting heavy items.
- Standing Issues. You might experience spasms in your back while trying to stand up and move around.
Call your doctor if you’re feeling weakness in your limbs because this could be happening due to spinal cord injury. If you have a fever, this could be a sign of an infection.
Caring for Back Pain
When you’re experiencing back pain, you need to take time to let it heal. While your first instinct might be to stop all activity for a few days, that is not the best way to take care of your back. Following these steps will help you get on your feet and back to your life.
- Inactivity. Only stop regular activity for a couple of days so your symptoms have a chance to calm down. But don’t stay in bed for the next week, it’s important to keep your body healthy. Once your back is feeling better, start going on short walks.
- Icing and Heating. Ice your back for a day or two and then move on to heat.
- Sleeping Position. Place a pillow underneath your knees to reduce pressure on your back.
- Medicine. Ibuprofen can help reduce inflammation and pain.
- What to Avoid. Don’t engage in vigorous activity or lift heavy objects after your back hurts. Give it time and patience to heal.
Changes to Ease Back Pain
Back pain can be debilitating and stops you from doing what you want and when you want. While not all back pain is completely preventable, you can take certain steps to lessen the chance of experiencing back pain.
- Personal Health. Staying healthy by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly is a great way to take care of your back.
- Proper Nutrients. Calcium and Vitamin D help strengthen bones and having them in your diet will positively affect your back.
- Avoid Inactive Periods. This goes along with frequent exercise. Don’t spend too much time on couches or staying in bed.
- Stretching and Warm-Ups. Before physical activity, take five minutes to stretch and prepare your body for increased movement. Warm-ups mean you don’t immediately start with intense activity. You have to work up to it. Light jogging and riding a bike on its lowest setting are two effective ways to work up to the more intense level.
- Medium Firm Mattress. When a bed is too soft, you sink into the bed and end up sleeping with bad posture. A firm mattress could misalign your spine. Sleeping on a medium firm mattress allows you to sleep comfortably and not worry about messing up your back.
- No Smoking. Smoking blocks blood flow and have a higher chance of degenerating discs. Smoking inhibits bone growth and healing. Smokers are prone to coughing, and even coughing too hard hurts the back.
- Lift Technique. If you’re not lifting correctly, then you run the risk of damaging your back every time to pick up a heavy object. When picking up something heavy, get as close as possible and bend with your knees. Holding the object as close to you as you can, stand back up using your legs, not your back. Do not lean forward. If the object is too heavy, do not try and move it on your own. Get someone’s help to make the object easier to carry.
- Strengthen Core. Doing abdominal workouts will improve your core and back strength.
Tips to Reduce Stress
When you’re stressed, your back muscles tense up. This can cause back pain, which only adds to whatever is causing you stress in the first place. Light workouts like yoga promote meditation and breathing techniques and this can help reduce your stress and strengthen your back.
- Focus. Do one task at a time. Don’t pack your schedule so it’s impossible to get everything done. You’ll get overwhelmed, and feel unproductive because you’ve put too many things on your list.
- Help. Reach out to friends and family for emotional and physical support. If you need help doing something, don’t hesitate to ask. If you feel that you need the advice of a professional, talk to a therapist. Don’t let issues keep you stressed out and prevent you from enjoying your life.
- Sleep. Sleep deprivation makes everything more difficult. Get the right amount of sleep so you can start each day fresh and clear-minded. You’ll be ready to handle anything the day brings.
- Personal Time. Everyone needs time for themselves to recharge and do something enjoyable. Make sure to do something you want to do each day. It could be reading a book, cooking your favorite meal or taking a relaxing bath. It’s motivating to have something to look forward to during a busy day.
Back Strengthening Exercises
Regularly doing exercises to strengthen your back will help prevent back pain in the future. These don’t have to be strenuous and time-consuming workouts.
Doing a little bit each day will provide some exercise without putting too much stress on your back or muscles:
- Reverse Fly. You’ll need a pair of dumbbells for this workout. You can choose the weight that works for you. With your feet shoulders-width apart, bend your knees and keep your back straight. Lean forward from your waist so you’re not bending your back. Reach your arms out and up so you can feel your shoulder blades coming together and then bring your arms down. There are 16 repetitions for one set.
- Bent-over row. Dumbbells also apply to this workout. Keep your feet hip-width apart and hold the dumbbells in front of your knees, which should be bent slightly. Lean forward from your hips and raise the dumbbells to the side of your chest so you’re bringing in your elbows. Like the reverse fly, you should feel your shoulder blades coming together. There are 10 to 12 repetitions for one set.
- Opposite arm and leg reach. This is a weight-free exercise and done on all fours. Keep your neck and back straight. At the same time, reach your right arm out and left leg back and hold. Repeat with the opposite arm and leg. Repetitions are about 10 to 15.
- Swan dive. This workout does not require weights. Lie down on your stomach and stretch your arms out front and lift your legs, like a superman stretch, and hold. Then, bring your arms back, palms facing inward, so they’re going in the same direction as your legs and hold. Relax your body and return to the starting position. Do this about six to eight times.
Live Without Back Pain
While back pain is common and many factors can initiate it, back pain does not have to be a regular occurrence in your life.
Keeping yourself healthy and fit, while doing exercises meant to strengthen your back, will keep you on your feet. You can live your life the way it’s supposed to be — active, fun and enjoyable.