Back pain is one of the most common painful and non-life-threatening conditions. It affects four in five Americans at some point in their lives. The good news is that back pain need not govern how you live your life.
If you have back pain, medication, exercise, and changes in your lifestyle are likely to offer the most relief. Surgery is useful in a minority of people
Most back pain isn't dangerous, but it's important to learn the "red flag" situations that require immediate medical attention. These include:
- back pain that occurs at the same time as a fever
- leg weakness that comes on abruptly or gets progressively worse
- numbness in the groin
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- pain that worsens instead of getting better
- inability to find a comfortable position for sitting or sleeping during times when you feel back pain
Other self-care steps you can take to mend your back include different types of exercise and complementary therapies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage, as well as choosing the right mattress.
Back Pain Articles
Gout is a disorder characterized by too much uric acid in the blood and tissues. In gout, crystals of uric acid are deposited in the joints, where they cause a type of arthritis called gouty arthritis. They also can be deposited in the kidneys, where they can cause kidney stones.
Sciatica describes persistent pain felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from the lower back, down through the buttock and into the lower leg. It is the longest nerve in the body. Pain results when this nerve is compressed or injured. It most commonly results from inflammation, bony enlargement due to arthritis or a displaced (herniated) disk in the lower spine.
A myelogram is an x-ray test in which dye is injected directly into your spinal canal to help show places where the vertebrae in your back may be pinching the spinal cord. It is sometimes used to help diagnose back or leg pain problems, especially if surgery is being planned.
The spinal cord carries nerve signals from the brain to the rest of the body. Trauma to the spinal cord can result from a number of injuries: about half occur after motor vehicle accidents; 25% after falls; 15% after a gunshot wound or other violence; and 10% after sports-related injuries. More than 80% of cases of spinal cord trauma occur in people between the ages of 15 and 35, and approximately 80% of those affected are male. Up to one-quarter of cases occur after significant alcohol ingestion. Pre-existing disease in the spine can make spinal cord trauma more likely. For example, complications of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoporosis may lead to spinal cord damage.
Most spinal cord injuries occur in the area of the neck called the cervical region. Trauma can result from bruising to the spinal cord itself, loss of blood flow to the cord or cuts in the cord. Spinal cord injuries are serious and can cause diminished strength, coordination and sensation as well as other functions, such as bladder control.
Inside a joint, a tissue called cartilage cushions the joint and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage of a joint erodes (breaks down). Bones begin to rub against each other, causing pain and difficulty moving the joint. Osteoarthritis also can affect nearby bones, which can become enlarged in places. These enlargements are called bone spurs or osteophytes.
Although the term arthritis means joint inflammation, there is relatively little inflammation in the joints of most people with osteoarthritis. For this reason, and because this type of arthritis seems to be caused by age-related degeneration of the joints, many experts and health care professionals prefer to call it degenerative joint disease.
Osteoarthritis can range from mild to severe. The pain associated with osteoarthritis can be significant and it usually is made worse by movement. Osteoarthritis can be limited to one joint or start in one joint usually the knee, hip, hand, foot or spine or it can involve a number of joints. If the hand is affected, usually many joints of the fingers become arthritic.
Osteoarthritis probably does not have a single cause, and, for most people, no cause can be identified. Age is a leading risk factor, because osteoarthritis usually occurs as people get older. However, research suggests that joints do not always deteriorate as people age. Other factors seem to contribute to osteoarthritis. Sports-related injuries or repeated small injuries caused by repeated movements on the job may increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis. Genetics also plays a role. Obesity seems to increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis of the knees.
The disks in your spine, called intervertebral disks, are thin, oblong structures that serve as cushions between the bones of your back (vertebrae). Each disk is made of a soft gel core surrounded by a tough, fibrous outer shell. This structure allows the disk to be firm enough to maintain the space between the vertebrae, but soft enough to compress when the spine flexes during bending, leaning and turning sideways.
Unless the person is able to tell you to the contrary, assume that anyone with a back injury also has a neck injury.
Place a board, such as a door or table leaf, next to the person. The board should extend below the buttocks (ideally to the feet) and above the head. Keeping the head aligned with the rest of the body, gently logroll the person toward you. Move the board under the person and ease him or her onto it. If the person is vomiting, lay him or her on one side and continue to support the head.
Sciatica's (pronounced sigh-AT-eh-ka) hallmarks are pain and numbness that radiates down the leg, often below the knee. In nine out of 10 cases, sciatica is caused by a displaced disk in the lower spine.
The best medicine is often patience — with some stoicism mixed in — because the pain often goes away, even if the problem disk does not. Researchers have found that the pain usually improves within a month. No one is quite sure why the pain subsides on its own, but it does.
But if the pain is very bad or persists, many people with sciatica must decide whether to have surgery. There are several sorts of operations, but they all involve paring back disks in some way so they don't impinge on nerve roots. And these aren't high-risk operations — complications are rare.
While going to and from school many kids these days look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders. Although it might not be quite so heavy, some kids actually do carry around a lot of weight in their backpacks. These heavy loads place stress on the spine and shoulders of children, causing muscle strain and fatigue. For some kids the aches and pains are bad enough to seek medical attention. Too much weight can also lead to bad habits such as poor posture and excessive slouching.
Unfortunately, doing homework and being prepared in class means carrying books back and forth between school and home. You can help your child lighten the load by teaching him or her organizational skills. By using folders for individual subjects your child can bring home just the work he needs for the day as opposed to lugging everything home. At school, encourage your child to take frequent trips in between classes to his or her locker to replace books.
You can also buy a suitable backpack and follow guidelines for proper use: