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Back Pain

The spine is a complex network of bones, joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons, its central feature being the vertebral column. The vertebral column is made up of 24 articulated bones called the vertebrae and nine fused vertebrae in the sacrum and coccyx at the bottom of your spine.

Back pain can take a number of forms and is a complaint that can affect anyone at any age. With so many causes of back pain it can be difficult to establish the root of the problem, but it most frequently relates to a strain or tear in a muscle, tendon or ligament. In most cases, the condition will improve when treated with painkillers and by keeping mobile, unless there has been a more significant damage to the structure of your spine. 

This page is intended for information purposes only and should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

Minimising the risk of back pain

Following these sensible daily guidelines and routines can help reduce the risks of developing pains in your back:

  • Ensure your keep your spine straight by maintaining a good posture
  • Keep an eye on your BMI, as excess weight can cause undue strain on your joints  
  • Be careful when lifting objects and try to carry evenly distributed weights 
  • Exercises such as walking, swimming or cycling can strengthen your stomach and back muscles
  • Make sure to include warm up and cool down stretches before and after exercise or sport
  • Stop smoking, as smoking is known to be a cause of tissue damage. Smokers also tend to lead less healthy lifestyles than non-smokers

Back pain symptoms

Pain in the lower back

Tension, stiffness or soreness in your lower back area is a common complaint, often referred to as ‘non-specific’ back pain. This sort of pain can result from twisting awkwardly, lifting something heavy or through poor posture.

Pain in the upper or middle back

This area is known as the thoracic spine and pain in this area can occur anywhere between the base of your neck and bottom of your ribcage. Symptoms can include dull, burning or sharp pain. You may also experience pains in your arms, legs or chest. If you have weakness in your arms or legs, a numb or tingling feeling in your arms, legs, chest or stomach area, or are suffering from a loss of bladder or bowel control you should seek immediate medical attention.

What can cause back pain

For most incidents of non-specific back pain, it can be difficult to identify the exact cause. However, there are a number of factors that can increase the chances of developing or aggravating back pain:

  • Spending long periods of time in a standing, sitting or bending position
  • Poor posture
  • Obesity (with a BMI of 30 or over)
  • Carrying, pushing or pulling excessive loads or not taking due care when lifting
  • Overuse of muscles during sports or other activities (repetitive strain injury)
  • Overstretching or twisting your back awkwardly

 

Sometimes the cause of the pain is because of more serious damage to parts of your spine, such as:

  • Osteoarthritis – a degenerative disease that affects the joints of your spine 
  • Spondylolisthesis –  when your vertebra becomes displaced
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – an inflammatory condition that can affect tissues, organs and flexible joints
  • Degenerative disc disease – where the intervertebral discs wear down, causing chronic back pain
  • Slipped disc – when an intervertebral discs herniates, putting pressure on the nerves
  • Fractured, cracked or broken bones in your back
  • Spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal, trapping your nerves 
  • Osteoporosis – a progressive disease which causes bones to lose density and become prone to fracture