Back pain is uncomfortable, episodes of which vary; they may be acute, sub-acute or chronic depending on the duration. The pain may be characterised as a dull ache, shooting or intense pain, or a burning sensation. The pain may extend into the arms and hands as well as the legs or feet, and may include tingling sensation with no apparent cause or weakness or numbness in legs and arms.
Back pain is quite common with about 9/10 adults having experienced it at some point in their life, and 5/10 working adults having it every year. Back pain can be classified by various methods to aid its diagnosis and management. The duration of back pain is considered in three categories, following the expected pattern of healing of connective tissue. Acute pain lasts up to 12 weeks, sub-acute pain refers to the second half of the acute period (6 to 12 weeks), and chronic pain is pain which persists beyond 12 weeks.
Back pain has several causes. Nearly 98% of back pain cases are diagnosed with nonspecific acute back pain in which no serious underlying pathology is identified. Nearly 2% are caused by metastatic cancers, while serious infections such as spinal osteomyelitis and epidural abscesses account for less than 1%. Nearly 95% of disc herniation(slipped disk) occurs at the lowest two lumbar intervertebral levels.
If you seem to pull the same back muscles often, that might indicate a problem with your vertebrae pinching the nerves that communicate with those muscles. A tweak that doesn’t improve in a few days is reason to visit a doctor. But before it comes to visit a doctor, here’s how to you can keep back in shape and pain-free.
Ways to ease the pain
Change bad posture
Bad posture, slumped across a TV console, is what actually puts more strain on your spine. Instead, stand up then sit back down like you’re doing a box squat. Stand with your feet slightly more than shoulder width apart, brace your abs, then push back with your hips and lower your butt to the chair. This trains your hips and core muscles to properly support your spine while seated.
Loosen tight muscles
Using a foam roller can work out muscle kinks before they cause more problems. Set the roller lengthwise on the floor and use your body weight to massage your upper back, lower back, hamstrings, and hip flexors. Sports trainers all over the country are encouraging athletes to foam roll.
You only need to do this once a week or so. When 228 people with chronic lower back pain practiced a 75-minute yoga routine weekly for three months, they saw a 50% improvement in their pain compared to merely following a pain relief book.
Untwist your lower back
A twinge in your back is often the result of tight muscles that rotate your pelvis out of alignment. Here’s the fix.Lie down on your back and lift your knees to your chest. Put your right hand on your right knee and pull it toward you, push your left knee away from you with your left hand, while opposing those movements with your leg muscles. Hold for five seconds, then switch; repeat three or four times.
Treat with cold and heat
First, apply an ice pack for five minutes; then take it off for five minutes. Repeat for up to half an hour. The cycle of cooling tricks your body into increasing blood flow to the sore muscle, which promotes healing. The next day, you can use a heating pad or a hot towel, which will help to relax any remaining tightness.
Get back on your feet
A cramped or pulled muscle needs time to recover, making one rest for prolonged periods. Being completely inactive for anything more than 48 hours, and you start to see Muscle Atrophy, which makes you weaker and more prone to injury. If you’re still in pain after two days, consult a physician.
Back care tips
- Always bend at your knees and hips, not your back
- Don’t twist and bend at the same time
- Lift and carry objects close to your body
- Carry heavy items in a rucksack, and avoid sling or one-shoulder bags
- Work on your posture. Pilates is great for this
- Quit smoking. Cigarettes reduce blood supply to discs between vertebrae, which may lead to discs degenerating
- Lose excess weight to reduce pressure on your joint
- Choose a mattress suiting your height, weight, age and sleeping position
- Go for a mattress that’s not too hard, not too soft, but supportive and comfortable
Working professionals can follow four simple steps to eliminate back pain
- Sit up straight, both at work and in your car / commute to work and back.
- Make sure the top of the computer screen is level with the eyebrows and the chair is tilted slightly forward.
- Take regular breaks, don’t sit for more than 20-30 minutes at a time and stretch regularl
- Drink water instead of tea or coffee to keep your body hydrated
The author is an orthopaedic surgeon at Fortis Hospital in Kalyan