What to look for
persistent aching or
stiffness anywhere along your spine, from the base of the neck to the hips.
sharp, localised pain in
the neck, upper back, or lower back, especially after lifting heavy objects or engaging in
other strenuous activity.
chronic ache in the
middle or lower back,
Back aches are a major
health issue in the community today.
The spine supports our
upper body and is the pivot for all movement. The spinal column is an extraordinary
mechanism, providing the stability we use to stand upright and the flexibility we need for
active movement. The spine, or backbone, is actually a miraculous piece of machinery
consisting of 33 vertebrae (24 of them flexible) with shock absorbing pads in between
A healthy spine is S-shaped
when viewed from the side, curving back at the shoulders and inward at the neck and small
of the back. As well as being the body's main structural member, it houses the spinal
cord. The intricate sensory network that runs through the vertebrae to transmit feeling
and control movement throughout the entire body.
Back pain is caused by
inflammation of the joints, or the bruising of muscles and ligaments by some means. More
commonly thought, back problems are related to posture. Problems can occur when we stand
in a slumped position, or sit hunched or sleep on a too soft mattress. Being overweight
magnifies back problems.
Backache can also be due to
a physical defect in the spinal column or as the result of another disease or condition in
some other part of the body. It can even be psychological.
Most of our back troubles
happen because of bad habits, generally developed over a long period of time
Overexertion in work and
Sitting incorrectly at
the desk or the steering wheel;
Pushing, pulling, and
lifting things carelessly.
Sometimes the effects are
immediate, but in many cases back problems develop over time.
One of the most common
types of back pain comes from straining the bands of muscles surrounding the spine.
Although such strains can occur anywhere along the spine, they happen most often in the
curve of the lower back.
The majority of the
population today is more sedentary than our ancestors used to be, a high proportion of
people spend the better part of their working day sitting at desks, at work stations, or
in cars and trucks. These recent changes in human behaviour have had a profound and
largely negative impact on human physiology.
People who walk a lot or do
physical labour develop good muscle tone in their backs and legs. People who sit most of
the day lose that muscle tone, and their backs are the first place to show it. However
this can be improved significantly by starting exercise programs to strengthen the back
The most common form of
backache is lumbago. It can occur quite suddenly or develop over hours or even days and is
caused by lifting or twisting, following an injury or over use or there may not be any
apparent reason for the pain. The result is a tearing of the ligaments an inflammation of
the joints between the vertebrae.
The disc are pads of tissue
situated between each of the vertebrae which make up the spine. Each disc is made up of a
tough, fibrous outer layer and a softer, jelly-like inner layer called the nucleus.
A slipped disc simply means
that the tough outer layer cracks open and the softer inner layer protrudes out through
the crack. The disc protrusion happens where the outer layer of the disc is weakest,
(usually just in front of the nerve roots which emerge from the spinal cord at each
If the person has a
slightly narrow spinal canal, the protruding disc material presses on the nerve root at
that level and causes the symptoms of a slipped disc. Most affected discs are in the lower
back region. When the disc presses on a nerve root, symptoms occur in the area that the
nerve root supplies.
Symptoms in the back
include a severe backache, painful muscle spasms with more pain when moving and relief
when lying flat.
Wear and Tear
Spinal discs can be subject
to normal wear and tear and can actually wear away. This is very painful and disabling.
This is usually a result of normal aging processes.
Cancer of the vertebrae is
very rare, but it can spread to bones from other sites in the body. This disease is
extremely serious and makes the patient feel very run down and unwell and should be
confirmed by an X-ray or bone scan.
backache occurs for no apparent reason. Weak muscles can cause back pain as muscles cannot
stand normal lifting and general movement. Stress or tension can also aggravate the pain.
A condition called fibrositis causes chronic backache from localised muscle tension, which
may in turn be psychosomatic in origin. Whatever the reason, the pain is still horrible.
Pregnancy commonly brings
on back pain, as do injuries from physical sports, accidents, and falls.
When you visit your doctor
he or she will want to know if the back pain is associated with any other problems such as
abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting etc. Doctors usually test your range of mobility to
identify the type of back problem you have. Blood and urine tests will make sure the pain
is not due to an infection or other systemic problem. X-rays are used in pinpointing
broken bones or other skeletal defects, and can sometimes help locate problems in
It is important to rest,
relieve the pain and slowly restore mobility and any treatment that is undertaken will
focus on these stages.
The basic treatment for
relieving back pain from strain or minor injury is immediate bed rest with an ice pack and
a pain reliever or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug to reduce pain and
inflammation. After the inflammation subsides, applying heat can soothe and restore
Continuous bed rest can
actually do more harm than good as a program of regular exercises is needed to keep the
back muscles working. Physiotherapists can help in this area and also give advice as to
which exercises are appropriate for each individual case. A chiropractor can help
manipulate the back. Bed rest and pain killers are the best remedy for patients with
Natural therapies have been
successful in aiding patients with back problems.
- massage by a trained professional who is trained in The Alexander technique and
the Feldenkrais method. Yoga is also helpful.
Angelica Root. For
general pain relief, drink infusions of
(Salix alba) or vervain (Verbena officinalis). For inflammation, try teas - lobelia (Lobelia inflata),
(Achillea millefolium), cramp (Viburnum opulus), or white willow. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), available as a tincture
and in capsules, is particularly recommended as a muscle relaxant and sedative
Over-the-counter remedies that are usually very helpful are Arnica for bruised or sore muscles, Bryonia and
Rhus toxicodendron for sharp pain that
gets worse when you move, and
Nux vomica for
Practicing good posture
Exercise regularly -
Dont stay in the
one position for too long. Stand up and stretch after you have been sitting for a while or
crouch for a few moments if you have been reaching up.
lift correctly with your
legs, not your back. Do not bend at the waist to lift.
Support your lower back
when sitting. Buy a special cushion if necessary, particularly for driving
Try and sleep on your
side - ensure you have a firm mattress.
Eat more fresh fruit and
vegetables, wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice low fat dairy food. Fish and plenty of
Call Your Doctor If
you feel numbness,
tingling, or loss of control in your arms or legs;
the pain in your back
extends downward along the back of the leg;
the pain increases when
you cough or bend forward at the waist;
the pain is accompanied
by fever; you may have a bacterial infection.
you have dull pain in one
area of your spine when lying in or getting out of bed
The muscle starts to
spasm and throb