Mind-Blowing Backache Statistics
“Oww, my back” is an expression uttered a million times a year in hundreds of languages across dozens of countries by men and women alike.
The alarming rate of occurrence in the United States, the UK and other developed nations speaks volumes about lifestyle habits, lack of proper posture and other ills of modern society.
According to data from the Mayo Clinic, a mind-numbing 80 per cent of all Americans have suffered or will suffer from some type of back pain at least once in their lives.
In the U.K., the National Health Service reinforces this: back pain is the biggest reason for absence from work in the United Kingdom.
So why is this spine-tingling tale of spinal pain so prevalent around the developed world? More to the point, why is it that the number of cases is on the increase even though chairs are more ergonomic, jobs are less physically strenuous and travel is much more comfortable than at any time in human history?
To answer these questions, we must first delve into the anatomy of the human body; specifically, the lower back, which is the source of most backache complaints.
“Back” to Basics: The Human Spine
For the purpose of studying backaches, we will restrict our anatomical analysis to the lower back region.
The lower spine is made up of vertebrae stacked atop each other and cushioned with discs of soft and malleable yet strong tissue enveloping a softer, pulpy, semi-solid substance; the function of the disc is to provide a flexible yet powerful joint between inflexible vertebrae.
These intervertebral discs are the reason our backs are flexible. Without them, we would be stiff-backed creatures with limited capabilities. The spine with its vertebrae and discs, in fact, is the distinguishing feature between lower and higher forms of animals.
In order for the spine to actually twist and turn at will, ligaments, tendons and muscles are required. Flexibility, therefore, is only achieved when several muscle groups work in perfect harmony to create movement in the human back. Anyone who has watched a gymnast or athlete in action is actually watching a miracle of engineering at work.
In fact, even a simple action such as bending to pick something up requires the precise coordination of multiple muscle groups.
From a pain perspective, the intricate network of spinal nerves making up the peripheral nervous system is the most important aspect. This is where pain originates, and this is also where the clues to curing backaches lie.
What Causes Backaches, and Other Horror Stories
Lumbar strain is probably the most common cause of backaches of a more superficial nature. This is typically caused by excessive strain on and subsequent damage to muscles, tendons and ligaments in the lower back region.
Misuse, overuse and trauma have been cited as the main causes of pain. Although lumbar strain is primarily known to affect those over 40, it is not uncommon to see it in much younger people.
Lumbar radiculopathy, or nerve irritation that arises from damaged intervertebral discs, is another major cause of backaches at a deeper level than lumbar strain.
In this type of condition, wear and tear causes the discs’ outer portion to degenerate, which leads to the inner, softer part protruding out and touching or pinching one of the many sensitive nerve fibers that exit the spinal column. The intense, shooting pain that is the result of this rupturing of the discs is called “sciatica” pain.
Nerve irritations are another, wider, group of causal agents that can lead to severe pain. The many types include bony encroachment (narrowing of the channels through which the nerves exit the spinal cord), viral infections that inflame the nerves, scoliosis (a “bending” of the spine either through a birth defect or other means), etc.
Beat that Backache Back to Hell
Treatment for backaches varies as much as the types and causes of pain. At the lower end of the severity spectrum is providing adequate rest to the back area.
For non-acute conditions, this is usually sufficient as it gives time for the injured component (muscle, tendon or ligament) to heal itself.
Application of heat to the affected area is also a possible course of action, while others prefer a combination of massage and heat application.
A step up from there is over-the-counter pain medication that reduces the pain, controls spasms in the muscles and allows normal movement to a certain extent. However, if the pain persists for several days without abatement, then the next step is recommended – a visit to the doctor.
Medical intervention can be quite complicated in the case of backaches. Just the diagnosis alone can be an intensive and extensive process of elimination.
The usual procedures used are x-rays, MRI or CT scans, bone scans and EMG (Electromyography). The results of these various tests usually help doctors pinpoint the actual source of the problem so that treatment can commence.
Treatment through medication involves the controlled administration of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
Short-term administering of narcotics like codeine is also a common practice, but only under close supervision of a trained physician.
Even certain antidepressants such as amitriptyline are known to alleviate backache symptoms. Cortisone or even Botox injections may be administered periodically to control severe pain.
Physical therapy is another popular treatment approach, where a combination of heat, cold, electrical and ultrasound stimulation are used, often in tandem with muscle-release techniques.
Specific exercises to strengthen the muscles of the back and abdomen may also be recommended, and may have to be continued even after the pain goes away. Posture training is often given to prevent recurrences or to improve pain conditions.
Surgery – the heavy artillery of Western Medicine. Surgical solutions are only sought when all else has failed, so it is quite rare that your doctor will recommend surgery before every other avenue has been exhausted but the pain remains. Several surgical procedures exist, such as spinal fusion, disc replacement, etc.
Most cases of backache can be dealt with, no matter how severe. The only thing you need to decide is how you are going to deal with it.