When you think about it, we rely on our backs for just about everything we do. An unhealthy back impacts our lifestyle to such a degree that it becomes challenging to get through a daily routine, let alone enjoy activities.
Anatomy of the back
To appreciate how the back functions, or not, it helps to understand a little about basic anatomy. The backbone, spine, or spinal column, is the vernacular for the vertical column. Its primary purpose is to protect the spinal cord. It also serves as a place for back muscles and ribs to attach. The bones along this column are called vertebrae. Adults have 26 vertebrae, including the sacrum and coccyx in the pelvic area. Of these vertebrae, 24 reside in the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar curves. Back muscles are complex due to the fact that they originate and insert in an overlapping manner.
The lumbar region, which is the lower part of the back, is where the main bulk of the muscle is located, and it contains several muscles that extend across, up and down. These muscles control flexion, enabling you to bend forward and sideways. Given the intricacy of the muscle network in our backbone, it is clear how easily injury can occur and why the healing process tends to be lengthy.
Commonality and consequences of back pain
Approximately 80 percent of people encounter low back pain during their adult life, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). An extensive survey reported by NINDS revealed that over 25% of adults said they had back pain within the previous three months. In addition to the impact on joy of living, the cost is high for employers in terms of lost productivity and potential workers’ compensation claims. Only the common cold tops back problems as the primary reason people take a sick day from work.
Five most common back issues
The lumbar vertebrae serve lower back support. On a day-to-day basis, we impose a heavy demand on the lumbar region, which frequently results in strains and sprains. These will usually heal within a relatively short period of time, depending on the strength of the muscles and ligaments. But pay attention if the pain radiates out from your spine and you find it getting harder to move. Report these symptoms to your doctor to facilitate the correct diagnosis and treatment.
Spondylolysis, known as a stress fracture, is aptly named as it is a fracture of the slender bone connecting the vertebrae, which is frequently impacted by repetitive stress. This plight is detected in one out of every 20 people, according to John Hopkins Medicine. Initially, there may not be symptoms other than back pain, but the intensity of the pain frequently worsens with sports and other activities. This pain is most noticeable in a backward bending position. It is best to see a doctor if this continues.
The common term for a herniated disc is a slipped disc. In between the vertebral bodies are intervertebral discs that can best be described as tough, fibrous rings containing a soft-like-jelly substance with high elasticity. These discs perform the critical job of absorbing shock, and they are continuously compressed. If pressure develops upon injury, rupture can result. The lumbar region is where a slipped disc is likely to occur because it carries most of our body weight and sustains pressure from over-stretching and improper bending.
A pinched nerve is a term most people use for the medical term of cervical radiculopathy. It earns the name of pinched nerve because it presents itself when a nerve originating from the neck and extending out from the spinal cord becomes irritated or compressed. Because sufferers often feel the pain in their shoulder, they may not immediately recognize it as a spinal condition. In some cases, a tingling may run down the arm, which is what often drives people to seek medical attention.
Children have 33 vertebrae in early development. Spinal cord injuries in children can be congenital or occur as a result of falling, car accidents, sports, or infections. Unlike adults who suffer mostly from weakness or injury to the lumbar region, pediatric spinal issues are more likely to be seen in the cervical, or neck, area.
Typical causes of back injury in adults
Accidents, poor posture, obesity, and lack of activity put the back at risk. When people do not exercise and stretch regularly and then become weekend warriors to participate in sports, housework or rigorous yardwork, injury can result. Aging is also a factor. The elastic inner portion of the intervertebral discs naturally loses some of that elasticity and becomes less soft with increasing age. This is one reason why the elderly lose height.
Getting help for back pain
Many who suffer from back pain hold off on seeking medical assistance initially, thinking the discomfort will recede on its own. As it worsens, they may see a general practitioner, back specialist, or chiropractor. After an examination, an X-ray or possibly MRI for a proper diagnosis, physical therapy is often the next step. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended. Once the back heals, the next step is the prevention of a recurrence.
Back pain prevention tips
To ease or prevent chronic conditions, some people schedule recurring visits to their chiropractor and/or integrate specific back exercises into their daily regimen. Becoming educated on lifting can help. Avoid forward flexion, and bend at the knees to lift objects. Keeping your core tight supports the back. Do not lift and twist simultaneously. For those who have a desk job in an office, some companies will provide, upon request or a medical note, the accommodation of a standing desk, which enables standing while working at the computer.
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