Consisting of an intricate network of nerves, bones, muscles, tendons and joints, the spine is one of the body’s most complex systems. Anyone can suffer from back pain and it can occur at any time of life. General aches, stiffness and tension can make it hard to diagnose specific causes of back pain but it usually relates to muscle, tendon or ligament strain. Painkillers will help in the majority of cases, unless there is more serious damage to the structure of your spine.
What you can do
You can help yourself avoid back pain by following the below checklist:
- Stand straight
- Maintain a healthy weight and BMI
- Exercise – swimming, walking or cycling are gentle and good for your back
- Take care when lifting objects; try to distribute weight evenly
- Warm up and cool down before and after exercise
- Stop smoking
What are the symptoms?
Lower back pain
The most common complaints related to back pain include soreness, tension and stiffness. These are referred to as ‘non-specific’ back pains and can result from awkwardly twisting your spine or lifting a heavy object.
Upper & middle back pain
Also known as the thoracic spine, pain felt from the base of your neck to the bottom of your ribcage is included in this category. Symptoms include dull, burning or sharp pains; you may also experience pain in your legs, arms and chest. If you experience weakness in your arms or legs, a numb or tingling feeling in your arms, legs, chest or stomach area, or are suffering from a loss of bladder or bowel control, you should seek immediate medical attention.
The causes of back pain
It can be hard to identify the cause non-specific back pain, but some factors may include the following:
- Obesity (if you register with a BMI of 30+)
- Spending extended periods of time in a standing, sitting or bending position
- Poor posture
- Repetitive strain injury
- Twisting your back
- Carrying heavy weights
Specific damage to parts of your spine will also result in pain, such as:
- A slipped disc – when one of your intervertebral discs herniates, placing pressure on the nerves
- Spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal, causing nerves to become trapped
- Fractured, cracked or broken bones in your back
- Degenerative disc disease – where the intervertebral discs wear down, causing chronic back pain
- Osteoporosis – a progressive disease where bones lose density and become prone to fractures
- Spondylolisthesis – vertebral displacement
- Osteoarthritis – a degenerative disease that affects spinal joints
- Rheumatoid arthritis – an inflammatory condition that can affect tissues and organs and particularly flexible joints