Back pain is a common reason for absence from work and doctor visits. Although back pain may be painful and uncomfortable, it is not usually serious.
Even though back pain can affect people of any age, it is significantly more common among adults aged between 35 and 55 years. Experts say that back pain is associated with the way our bones, muscles and ligaments in our backs work together.
Pain in the lower back may be linked to the bony lumbar spine, discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, lower back muscles, abdomen and pelvic internal organs, and the skin around the lumbar area. Pain in the upper back may be due to disorders of the aorta, tumors in the chest, and spine inflammation.
Back pain is pain felt in the back. Episodes of back pain may be acute, sub-acute, or chronic depending on the duration. The pain may be characterized as a dull ache, shooting or piercing pain, or a burning sensation. The pain may radiate into the arms and hands as well as the legs or feet, and may include paresthesia (tingling with no apparent cause), weakness or numbness in the legs and arms. The anatomic classification of back pain follows the segments of the spine: neck pain (cervical), middle back pain (thoracic), lower back pain (lumbar) or coccydynia (tailbone or sacral pain) with the lumbar vertebrae area most common for pain.
Backache or back pain can describe pain anywhere from the base of the skull to the base of the spine. The following list provides some indication of the many different causes and symptoms.
1. Soft-tissue backache:
Trouble arises from the muscles, joints and ligaments running along the spine. Lifting, straining bad posture or prolonged driving or sitting at a desk is often a cause.
2. Slipped disc backache:
Trouble arises from a backward movement of the disc which sits between each vertebra of the spine and the next one. The disc pushes against nerves in the spinal cord and commonly produces referred pain down the back of the leg (sciatica). lifting with a bent back or awkward twisting is often responsible.
3. Inflammatory and pathological backache:
These make up the minority of backaches, but are the most serious. Infections in the bones themselves, tumours and degenerative disorders such as arthritis may all be responsible. The back pain may be the first sign of a problem arising in the back, or it may equally represent the first symptom of distant disease somewhere else in the body. Severe or prolonged cases of backache require professional help. The following self help treatments can be used once the likelihood of a severe ‘slipped disc’ or the pathological causes of backache have been ruled out.
Self Massaging Back
You can massage your lower back by sitting cross-legged, or standing (if you are in office), or by lying down on your side with your top knee bent in front of you. The movements outlined below are designed to release muscular tension and aid relaxation.
Start by vigorously rubbing the palms of both your hands up and down the small of your back and from side to side, to warm the area and release any muscular tension.
1 For a stronger, deeper movement, make your hands into fists and press the thumb side of your hand into you sacrum – the lower part of your spine. Then stroke your fists firmly up and down the area. Check the steps in the images below.
2 Make deliberate, circular pressures with your fingertips or thumbs all around your sacrum. Now, pummel the area with floppy, relaxed fists, taking care to avoid your kidneys. Finish with some gentle stroking.
3 Bend over, stretch and relax the back muscles. Gently rub through the side. Open the hands and softly caress through the side-back as shown below.
Hot and cold treatments are very helpful for this condition and can be carried out as often as required. Prepare two bowls of water, one hot, and one cold. Fold two towels in three and dip one in the hot water, wring it out tightly and place over the painful area for 3 minutes. Then do the same with the cold for 1 minute. Keep repeating the procedure for about 20 minutes.
Alternative to Self Massage
If it is difficult to massage your own back, get treatment from a professional therapist, a friend or family member can provide much relief if the backache is muscular in origin. Lie on your front on a firm surface, or sit leaning over the back of a chair. Your partner should use deep stroking movements (effleurage) up the muscles on either side of the spine, and small circular strokes with the tips of the fingers (petrissage) around areas of tension (shoulder blades and buttocks). General back massage, concentrating particularly on the lower back and the buttock muscles, helps reduce muscle tension and pain, and restore lost mobility. Do not massage over the vertebrae, but either side, working upwards and outwards with stroking movements. If you find areas of tension or ‘knots’, spend a little more time using circular movements to relax the muscles.
Exercise to Treat Back Pain
Exercise is helpful in some cases of backache. However, it is not advised if it makes the back worse. Swimming, gentle stretching or yoga strengthen the back muscles without straining, and are very helpful as a preventive measure. The following exercises help relieve stiffness and muscular pain by ‘massaging’ the whole of the spine: Sit on a yoga mat or carpet with your legs bent and arms grasped around your knees. Slowly rock backwards and forwards so that your whole spine touches the floor.Lie on your back with legs straight and arms stretched out to the sides. Bend your left leg and place the foot on the outside of your right knee. Keep your shoulders flat on the ground. Lower your left knee towards the ground. Hold the position and release. Repeat with the other leg. The following exercises help strengthen the stomach muscles, taking strain off the lower back. Stop if they produce pain.
Pelvic tilt: lie on your back on the floor, place one hand under the small of the back, then try to squash the hand by pressing the small of the back downwards to the floor. Hold for 10 seconds then relax. Repeat 15 times.
Abdominal scrunches: lie on your back with your knees bent, slowly raise your head and chest a couple of inches off the floor, pointing your outstretched hands towards your knees. Hold for 3 seconds and relax. Repeat 10 times.
Lumbar stretch: lie on your back, draw both knees up to your chest and clasp your hands around them, pulling them inwards to your chest. Hold for 5-10 seconds, relax and repeat 10 times. Bring your legs into your chest again, but this time make a wide circle with the tops of the knees. Repeat 5 times clockwise, 5 times anticlockwise.
Lumbar roll: lie on your back, bend your knees so that your feet rest near to the buttocks. Keeping the knees together let them fall over to the left side, while keeping your shoulders and feet flat on the floor. Repeat 3 times in each direction.
The following routine may help reduce the pain. You can get naked or practice it with clothes. Lie on your back and support the knees with a pillow or bolster. It may also help to put a thin pillow or rolled-up towel under the small of the back. Experiment with the position until you are comfortable. Try to let go of your pain. Close your eyes and become aware of how your body feels. Focus your attention on each part of the body, starting with the tips of the toes, and finishing with your face and eyes. Consciously try to relax every part in turn. The whole procedure should take at least 10 minutes. If you are unable to relax, try using relaxation tapes, learn meditation or biofeedback.
For mild back pain. Get naked (you can try this exercise with clothes on but you will not feel free). Sit on a dog position on the roll cushion as shown in the image below and bend over on the elbow and then sit again. Practice it 2 to 4 times with a break. Do not push be gentle.
Professional Help for Back Pain Relief
Anti-inflammatory drugs or muscle relaxants may be prescribed, along with physiotherapy. Traction, wearing a collar or surgical corset may also be recommended. As a final resort, surgery may be carried out.
Osteopathy and chiropractic provides effective treatment through massage, ultrasound, and manipulation. Exercises may also be recommended. The Alexander Technique will help improve posture and is highly recommended for this condition. Acupuncture is effective in reducing pain.