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Back pain

  • Overview


    Many people seek medical help or miss work due to back pain, a leading cause of disability worldwide. However, some measures can prevent or relieve most episodes of back pain, particularly for people under 60. If prevention fails, simple home treatment and correct body posture can often heal the back within a few weeks. Surgery is seldom necessary to treat back pain.

  • Symptoms


    Pain in the back can vary from aching muscles to a sharp, burning, or stabbing feeling. It may also extend down to the leg. Activities such as bending, twisting, lifting, standing, or walking can aggravate the pain.

  • When to see a doctor


    If you experience back pain, treating it at home and practising self-care is essential. Typically, the pain should improve within a few weeks. However, you should contact your healthcare provider if the pain lasts longer than a few weeks, is severe and doesn’t improve even with rest, spreads down one or both legs (significantly below the knee), causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs or is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.

    While rare, back pain can sometimes indicate a severe medical issue. If you experience new bowel or bladder problems, have a fever, or if the pain follows a fall, blow to the back, or other injuries, seek immediate medical attention.

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  • Causes


    Back pain can have no apparent cause and is often linked with various conditions.
    Muscle or ligament strain. Lifting heavy objects or sudden awkward movements can strain your back muscles and ligaments, leading to painful spasms, especially if you’re not in good physical shape.
    Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks in the spine cushion bones and can bulge or rupture, causing pressure on a nerve. Sometimes this doesn’t push back pain. Disk disease can be detected through X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs for other medical reasons.
    Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back and cause spinal stenosis.
    Osteoporosis. When the bones in the spine become porous and brittle, it can lead to painful breaks in the vertebrae.
    Axial spondyloarthritis, also known as ankylosing spondylitis, is an inflammatory condition that can lead to the fusion of certain spinal bones. As a result, the flexibility of the spine can be reduced.

  • Risk factors


    Back pain can affect anyone, including children and teenagers. Several factors can increase the risk of developing back pain, such as:
    Age, starting from around 30 or 40 years old.
    Lack of exercise can also lead to weak and unused muscles in the back and abdomen, resulting in back pain.
    Excess body weight can put extra stress on the back, and certain diseases like arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.
    Improper lifting techniques can also cause back pain, such as using the back instead of the legs.
    Psychological conditions like depression and anxiety may increase the risk of back pain, as stress can cause muscle tension.
    Smokers have a higher likelihood of experiencing back pain due to coughing, which can lead to herniated disks. Smoking can also decrease blood flow to the spine and increase the risk of osteoporosis.

  • Prevention


    If you want to prevent back pain, improving your physical condition and learning how to use your body correctly is essential. Here are some tips on how to keep your back healthy and strong:

    Exercise regularly. Low-impact aerobic activities like walking, cycling, and swimming can increase back strength and endurance without putting too much strain on your back. Talk to your healthcare provider about which activities are suitable for you.
    Build muscle strength and flexibility. Exercises targeting your abdominal and back muscles can help condition them to support your back.
    Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can strain your back muscles and lead to pain.
    Quit smoking. Smoking is known to increase the risk of low back pain. Quitting smoking can help reduce this risk, especially if you smoke several cigarettes daily.

    It’s essential to be mindful of your movements to avoid back injuries. Here are some tips for using your body properly:

    Stand up straight and avoid slouching. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position. If you must stand for a long time, try placing one foot on a low footstool to ease the load on your lower back. Alternate feet frequently. Good posture can help reduce the strain on your back muscles.
    Choose a seat with proper support for your lower back, armrests, and a swivel base. Use a pillow or rolled towel to maintain the natural curve of your back. Keep your knees and hips level, and change positions every half-hour.
    If possible, avoid lifting heavy objects. If you have to lift something serious, use your legs to do the work and keep your back straight. Don’t twist your back and only bend at the knees. Hold the object close to your body. If the thing is too heavy or awkward, find someone to help you lift it.

    Buyer beware
    Many products claim to prevent or relieve back pain, but there is no solid evidence that special shoes, shoe inserts, back supports, or specially designed furniture can help. Furthermore, no one-size-fits-all solution for mattresses works best for people experiencing back pain. It ultimately comes down to personal comfort preferences.

  • *Please note that the information provided in the article is for reference purposes only. It is essential to consult a doctor before applying any of the suggestions mentioned.

Content Details

Medical info from Mayo Clinic, for reference only. Visit Hoan My for better advice.

Last updated on: 07/08/2023