Back pain can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with because your back affects your every move, sitting and standing. And when back pain strikes, you can’t do either for long without aggravating it. There are so many ways you can hurt your back, some without even knowing you’re doing it; sitting too long, leaning to one side, long drives, standing for long periods of time, carrying too much body weight, wearing the wrong footwear and lifting the wrong way, to name just a few. And pain or injury in another part of your body could be the cause of, or coming from, your back. The head bone is connected to the neck bone, and all the way down!
Subject to most of the mechanical stress of lifting, twisting and supporting, your lower back supports most of the weight of your body and is the most common site of back pain. Even while sitting, our lower back muscles are in play, stopping us from tipping over sideways, falling forward and/or backward. Upper back pain can be related to your kidneys or your neck.
However, the good news is, most common back pain is the result of factors that we can control (overweight, weak muscles, poor posture) and will resolve itself. And for most common back pain, the old joke absolutely applies; “Doctor, it hurts when I do this…then stop doing that!”
Let’s look at the some of the causes of back pain and what we can do about it today.
Anatomy of your Spine and Spinal Nerves
To learn more about your nervous system, CLICK HERE.
Types of Back Pain and Possible Causes
Back pain can strike anywhere from your neck to your lower back and sometimes even radiate into your hips and down your legs. This is, generally, because two or more elements are involved in causing this pain; nerves and muscles. From the diagram above, you can see that many nerves originate in your spine and travel the complete length of your legs and arms. Because of this layout, if a nerve is pinched in your back, you may feel it in your hand.
Pain can manifest from many different sources, including lifestyle habits (bad footwear, carrying the wrong way, sitting for long periods of time, etc.), job requirements, and/or trauma, injury and illness.
Back pain symptoms include:
- Chronic aches and stiffness anywhere along your spine
- Sharp, localized pain in one or more areas
- Chronic middle or lower back pain (from sitting/standing too long)
- Pain that radiates into the buttocks, down the back of the thigh and into the calf and toes
- Inability to stand straight without severe muscle spasms in lower back
This back pain can originate from a single source, such as a pinched nerve or muscle spasm, or from a collaborative source, such as inflammation pushing on nerves.
If your back pain escalates into numbness, tingling or loss of control in your limbs, call your primary health care provider immediately as this could signal involvement of the spinal cord.
When the pain extends from your lower back down the back of your leg and/or the outer part of your thigh and leg, this could be associated with the sciatic nerve, resulting in a condition called sciatica. Sciatica is due to compression on the sacral spinal nerve roots or the sciatic nerve. 1
If the pain increases when you cough or bend forward at the waist, this can be the sign of a herniated disc.
Bacterial urinary tract infections can cause back pain, usually felt where your kidneys are located; your middle back. This pain is accompanied by fever and burning during urination, or strong-smelling urine.
Osteoarthritis manifests as a dull pain in one or more areas of your spine upon getting out of bed.
Options for Dealing With Back Pain
Your primary health care provider could possibly recommend any one, or a combination, of the following:
- Over-the-counter pain medication (in more serious cases, prescription medications)
- Heat or cold applied to the affected area (whichever feels better for you)
- Modifying your activities to accommodate your back for a period of time
- Visiting a chiropractor for assessment and adjustments
- Visiting a physiotherapist for assessment, treatments and/or exercises
- Trying holistic therapies such as acupuncture
- Light exercise, such as yoga and stretching exercises
- Changing your footwear or visiting an orthopedic specialist for an analysis
- Creating a more ergonomic workspace
In certain cases, usually mild ones, a lack of activity can be just as bad as overuse. Mild back pain can often be alleviated by carrying on with gentle exercise or your back can stiffen up even more. A good option in this situation is swimming; the weight of your body is supported by the water as you exercise. But again, your primary health care provider should be the one to diagnose this for you.
Taking Care of Your Back So That Pain Doesn’t Strike
A few tips and tricks to prevent back pain:
Make sure you’re sleeping on a good quality mattress that has been replaced every seven to ten years. Sleeping on an old, worn-out mattress can bring on back pain.
Warm baths that include Epsom salts can help your back feel better and help you sleep at night.
Stretch first before doing any strenuous exercise or household chores such as gardening. Always bend your knees and hips, not your back. Never twist and bend at the same time. For kids, make sure their backpacks have wide straps on the shoulders and optional tummy straps to evenly distribute the weight. Try not to let them carry too heavy of a backpack.
For ladies, try and carry your purse like a football; under your arm rather than over one shoulder, especially if it’s heavy.
Quit smoking. What? What’s that got to do with my back? It is thought that smoking reduces the blood supply to the discs between the vertebrae and this may lead to degeneration of the discs.
Be vigilant and constantly monitor your body position throughout the day. Ask yourself things like:
- Could I be standing straighter?
- Am I slouching?
- When was the last time I got up from my chair?
- Does my chair need to be replaced with something more ergonomic?
- Am I carrying loads that are heavier than I can safely manage?
- Is my footwear appropriate for supporting my back?
- Have I exercised lately?
- Could I lose a few pounds to take the pressure off my back?
- Am I sitting with my feet up?
- Is my driving time affecting my back? (lumbar support in the car is important)
If your back is already sore, there are a few things you can do to help.
Getting in and out of bed:
- Lean forward from your hips, not from your back. Try not to arch your back.
- You should push your upper body off the bed using your elbows and hands to bear the weight and swing both legs to the floor.
- Keep your back straight and try not to bend at the waist.
Getting in and out of the car:
- Move the seat back as far as possible and hold onto the side of the car, back of the seat, or even the dashboard for additional support.
- Bend at the knees and hips and try not to twist at the waist. Avoid twisting and turning to reach for objects in the back seat and be aware of proper body mechanics.
- Use both arms and legs to assist you when raising and lowering yourself into and out of the car. Keep your body in alignment and turn your body as tolerated, but not too far. 2
Nutter’s Can Suggest…
Supreme Multi Vitamin from SISU
A good quality multivitamin, including minerals, can be important to support your bones, muscles and nerves.
1. Barron’s Dictionary of Medical Terms
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.