Chances are you know back pain
all too well. It's the dull, constant ache in the lower back or the sudden
painful twinge below the shoulder. It lasts for an hour, a day, or several
weeks. Back pain, in its many forms, is one of the most common medical problems
in the United States; it affects more than 80 percent of Americans at some
point in their lives.
Because of its broad range of effects, back pain can severely disrupt your quality of life by limiting your ability to work, exercise, or just move around. It's no wonder millions of Americans go to the doctor each year asking for help dealing with back pain.
How it Works
Despite its prevalence, treating back pain is problematic as it is usually a symptom of another problem and not a medical condition itself. The back is a complex part of the body in which many delicate parts work together to provide flexibility, an upright stance, and protection to the spinal cord. A vital step in relieving back pain is diagnosing the underlying problem. Back pain could be caused by any number of problems related to bones, joints, the discs and nerves that make up the spine, or the muscles and ligaments in the back.
When Things Go Wrong
Most often, back pain is triggered by a simple strain from everyday activity such as improper or heavy lifting, intense exercise, or accidental injury. Even a strong sneeze or cough can cause a muscle spasm that could result in a painful strain that lasts for days.
Structural conditions of the back, such as bulging discs, arthritis, curves in the spine, or osteoporosis can also cause back pain. Discs are particularly vulnerable as we age because they can become dry and stiff, a process called disc degeneration. Because of this, age is one of the primary risk factors for back pain, followed by obesity, a diet high in calories and fat, and the presence of other diseases such as arthritis and some forms of cancer.
Types of Back Pain
There are two main types of back pain:
- acute pain, which happens suddenly and typically lasts fewer than six weeks, and
- chronic pain, which can't be tied to a specific trigger and lasts longer than three months. Chronic pain is less common.
Fortunately, most cases of back pain respond well to self-treatment and fade rather quickly, without medical intervention or surgery. Healthy habits, such as exercising and eating right, can greatly reduce your risk of developing back pain and help you manage chronic pain. If you are experiencing recurring back pain, see your doctor to determine the cause and find out what treatment options work best for you.