Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes and Prevention

back1Back Pain Symptoms, Causes and Prevention
Most of us at some stage in our lives will experience back pain of some degree, some more seriously than others. There are many ways to injure your back including wear & tear, poor posture, sports injuries, accidents & muscular imbalance. Symptoms of back pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term).

Your spine is made up of a column of bones called vertebrae with the skull at the top and pelvis at the base. Between the vertebrae are discs which cushion shock. There are small joints at the back of the spine and these are held together by ligaments. Your spine is then strengthened and made moveable by muscles and nerve tissue.

Movements of the Spine
The spine is very flexible but it is also very easy to injure by strong, sudden movements, such as whiplash-type injuries.

  • Our upper back is so susceptible to whiplash type injuries is in part due to the limited muscle support and also the top of the spine has to support the head, an average of 6kg – 7kg
  • Our middle back has limited amount of spinal movement due to the rib connections and smaller discs
  • Our lower back (lumbar spine) is quiet flexible from forward to back and side to side. A safe recommendation for unsupported flexion is 30 degrees maximum

I’d doubt that most of us are anyway near this flexible


Some Causes of Back Pain

Muscular Imbalance An imbalance in the strength or length of opposing muscles can pull your body out of alignment causing poor posture which can result in back pain. EG: Rounded Shoulders caused by tight chest muscles and weak upper back muscles.
Prolapsed Intervertebral Disc This is caused when a there is a tear in the outer ring of a disc allowing the jelly like center to protrude through. The contents of the disc will press on one of the nerves as it leaves the spinal canal which will cause pain to be felt elsewhere. EG: the disc pressing on the sciatic nerve will cause Sciatica
Wear and Tear Arthritis or other degenerative disease can cause wear and tear on the joints between the vertebrae as well as the moveable joints at the back of the spine. There is a smooth covering on the joints (cartilage) and this can become roughened by wear and tear. This wear and tear can prevent a joint from moving freely and lead to stiffness
Strained Muscles Muscles are strained by overloading them. A sudden or unexpected movement usually causes this. Muscles are more easily strained if your fitness levels are poor, you have not warmed up for exercise sufficiently or if your muscles are tired
Sprained Ligaments Ligaments prevent excessive movement in joints. They can be injured when a joint is stretched to its limit and held there for too long, or repeated too often
Internal Problems Backache can be caused by internal organ disorders. Eg: gallstones, kidney stones/injuries, shingles or gynecological problems
Poor Lifting Technique Bending the spine when lifting objects, no matter how light can cause an injury. If you want to see the correct lifting technique in action, simply look at how a toddler will lift an object. It is remarkable to see how perfect their technique is


Sciatica Symptoms and Causes

What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a common type of pain affecting the sciatic nerve, a large nerve extending from the lower back down the back of both legs. The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body.

There are two types of Sciatica:sciaticn

  • Acute sciatica (short-term): Does not typically require professional treatment; symptoms can be significantly reduced with the use of accessible over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers combined with hot and cold packs and exercise.
  • Chronic sciatica (long-term): May require physiotherapy, which may include exercise, applied heat, and other techniques. In rare cases surgery may be required.

What Are the Symptoms of Sciatica?

  • A shooting pain that makes it difficult to stand up
  • Burning or tingling down the leg
  • A constant pain on one side of the rear
  • Numbness, weakness or difficulty moving the leg or foot
  • Tingling sensation (pins and needles) in the feet and toes

What can cause Sciatica?

  • Injury within the spine
  • Infection within the spine
  • Pregnancy
  • Tumors
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal cord
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Spondylolisthesis

Treatment options for Sciatica can include

  • Physiotherapy
  • Exercises such as walking or light stretching
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers
  • Prescription painkillers
  • Chiropractic treatment
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Surgery

How to prevent Sciatica?

In some cases sciatica cannot be prevented but there are some ways that you can reduce the possibility of sciatica such as taking up regular exercise and ensuring correct posture when standing, sitting, sleeping and lifting objects etc…


Other common things that can make back pain worse includes:

  • Being overweight
  • Frequent bending over
  • Lack of flexibility
  • Age
  • Osteoporosis
  • Previous back problems
  • Participating in sports such as gymnastics, javelin throw, diving, weight lifting, skiing, football etc..
  • Poor posture and postural imbalances
  • Overuse,Poor footwear
  • Improper lifting technique
  • Incorrect exercise technique
  • Not exercising regularly
  • Wearing high heels
  • Sleeping on a mattress that is too soft


Prevention of back pain can include

  • When standing for long periods of time, change from one foot to the other regularly
  • Sit with your knees higher than your hips
  • Have a chair that supports you lower back
  • Adjust monitor heights etc… so that you do not have to bend over at your desk
  • Have an Orthopaedic bed
  • When lying in bed, bend your knees
  • Have a pillow that supports your neck