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Pain series: Have back pain? When to go to a doctor

·Contributor
·4 min read

The spine is a fascinating piece of bone architecture. It’s made up of 24 bones that are connected to ligaments and muscles to create the spinal column. It also encases and protects the spinal cord, a bundle of nerves that send signals to the rest of your body.

Unfortunately, Backache is one of the most common medical complaints - over 19 million people go to a doctor every year for back pain.

And now with the Covid-19 Work From Home/remote working situation, compelling us to sit for hours in front of our computer/laptop screens, the chances of Backaches have increased manifold. Sitting at a desk all day can eventually lead to pain or discomfort in your neck or back.

With the Covid-19 Work From Home/remote working situation, compelling us to sit for hours in front of our computer/laptop screens, the chances of Backaches have increased manifold
With the Covid-19 Work From Home/remote working situation, compelling us to sit for hours in front of our computer/laptop screens, the chances of Backaches have increased manifold

What is a Backache?

Backache usually refers to pain in your muscles, intervertebral joints, spinal nerves, or sometimes bone-on-bone pain. It can be categorised as acute or chronic.

Acute backache is often temporary (usually lasting anywhere from a couple of days to several weeks) and can improve on its own, frequently without treatment or with pain relieving medication. Chronic back pain on the other hand, is more long-term and is often progressive, getting worse over time.

Backpain can occur either in the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (upper and middle back) and the lumbar spine (lower back).

Backpain can occur either in the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (upper and middle back) and the lumbar spine (lower back)
Backpain can occur either in the cervical spine (neck), the thoracic spine (upper and middle back) and the lumbar spine (lower back)

The most common causes of back pain include muscle and ligament sprains and strains, osteoarthritis (wear and tear damage), arthritis (inflammation), a compressed spinal nerve, a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or skeletal irregularities (such as scoliosis).

Causes

Age: Back pain is more common as you get older.

Muscle or ligament strain: Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can strain back muscles and spinal ligaments.

Bulging or ruptured spinal disks: Disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve causing pain.

Lack of exercise: Weak, unused muscles in your back and abdomen might lead to back pain. Excess body weight also puts extra stress on the back.

Some types of arthritis like Spine osteoarthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain
Some types of arthritis like Spine osteoarthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain

Diseases: Some types of arthritis and cancer can contribute to back pain.

Trauma: If you've had a serious trauma, such as a fall from a height or a car accident.

Pregnancy: As you gain weight in pregnancy, your center of gravity changes and your hormones are relaxing the ligaments in the joints of your pelvis.

Smoking: Smokers have increased chances of back pain probably because smoking prompts more coughing, which can lead to herniated disks. Smoke and nicotine can cause the discs in your spine to break down and wear out more rapidly.

Preventive measures

  • Moving plays a key role in protecting your spine throughout the day. Go for a walk during a break. Whether you just stand and stretch or need a water refill, small breaks throughout the day can alleviate neck and back pain greatly.

  • Maintain correct posture. Don't slump over your keyboard. Sit upright, with your shoulders relaxed and your body supported against the back of your chair. Try putting a pillow or a rolled towel between your lower back and your seat and keep your feet flat on the floor.

Yoga stretch exercises are good for lower spine health
Yoga stretch exercises are good for lower spine health
  • A regular exercise routine, such as abdominal crunches, walking, swimming and yoga, can help strengthen your spine and back muscles and also take pressure off your back.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Check your optimum Body Mass Index (BMI).

  • Quit smoking

  • Sleep longer. When you have a restful night’s sleep, your back will feel less sore during the day. A night of restorative sleep has healing benefits for your back.

Try warm baths or showers to help relax your muscles. Keep a hot water bag handy for quick relief
Try warm baths or showers to help relax your muscles. Keep a hot water bag handy for quick relief
  • Try warm baths or showers to help relax your muscles. Keep a hot water bag handy for quick relief.

  • Mindful meditation is a great way to improve concentration, release feel-good hormones (endorphins), and decrease anxiety and stress. Mindful meditation can help control the way your body perceives pain

When to see a doctor

According to the Spine Health Institute, you should see a doctor if:

  • You have a backache that lasts for more than two weeks or you have shooting pain down your arms or legs

  • Weakness, numbness or tingling in your arms and legs

  • Night time pain. If your pain worsens at night, it could be a sign of something more serious.

  • Fever along with backache or rapid weight loss without actively dieting

  • Problems with balance or controlling your bowels or bladder.

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