Back pain is a common problem in Australia and according to the Medical Journal of Australia, “Up to eighty per cent of Australians will experience back pain at some point in their lives and 10% will experience significant disability as a result”. Fortunately back pain is not usually caused by any serious disease and most episodes of back pain get better quite quickly, which is great news for people with back pain but, what is not so great is about half of all people who get back pain will go on to have further episodes which increase in longevity and severity.
The first step to treating and managing back pain is to rule out the possibility of any medical problem, such as infection or fracture (although these are rarely the cause). Then once serious medical conditions are ruled out, it is important to manage your spinal health in a conservative way.This is where your chiropractor comes in. Chiropractors are fully qualified and registered health professionals who are highly trained to diagnose and/or treat conditions of the neuromuscular skeletal system. Dr Bailey can assess the condition of your spine and identify the cause of your back pain. He can then discuss with you your health goals and recommend a treatment program that will assist you in meeting these goals.
Structure of the back
Your back is an extremely complex and important structure; it provides support to many areas of your body including legs, arms, head, rib cage and pelvis. Your spine is made up of bones called vertebrae, these are stacked together to form a loose ‘S’-shaped column.
Between each vertebra in your back is a spongy tissue or cartilage called intervertebral discs. Discs act like shock absorbers for your spine and also allow the spine to move and give the spine its flexibility. Discs have a flat structure with a soft jelly-like centre. The vertebrae in your back are joined together by pairs of smaller joints called ‘facet’ joints, and a mesh of connective tissue, called ligaments, hold the spine together.
There are many complex layers of muscle in your back which provide structural support while also allowing the movement of your spine. The spinal cord runs through the centre of the spine and connects the brain to the rest of the body.
Causes of back pain
There are many possible causes of back pain, and it is often difficult to work out which structure is the cause. This is why it is important to have your back pain checked by a Chiropractor, a fully qualified and registered health professional, who is highly trained to diagnose and/or treat conditions of the neuromuscular skeletal system.
All of the components in your back have the potential to cause you pain if they are affected by injury or disease, and sometimes, it is more than one structure that is afflicted. It is important to remember, most people with back pain do not have any significant damage to their spine, such as fractures. It is more common for the pain to come from the muscles, ligaments and joints.
Some common causes of back pain include:
- Muscle and ligament strains – if you do not regularly exercise or if you have pre-existing conditions, you can be more vulnerable to soft tissue injuries like sprains (stretching or tearing ligaments) and strains (injuring muscles or tendons). Stretching a ligament or muscle too much or too fast can result in a tear of the tissue. Excessive force and repetitive movements can also damage your muscles.
- Structural problems – caused by bad posture, osteoporosis and genetic conditions or scoliosis. These can all cause pain by putting stress on the different areas of your spine.
- Arthritis – osteoarthritis and ankylosing spondylitis are two forms of arthritis known to cause back pain.
- Osteoporosis – is a disease often seen in older people and characterised by loss of bone density and strength.
- Sciatica – can develop when the nerve, which runs from the lower back down into your leg, gets compressed by a bulging disc, causing pain, numbness or tingling.
- Stress – one of the most common side effects of stress is increased muscle tension. This can lead to fatigue, stiffness and localised pain in your muscles and joints. Constantly tight muscles can create imbalances in your posture which can lead to misalignment of the spine.
More persistent back pain may be associated with arthritis of the ‘facet’ joints and degeneration of the discs. However, people with this condition may not experience any pain. This is why it is important to have your spine regularly examined by your Chiropractor who is a fully qualified and registered health professional, as well as trained to diagnose and/or treat conditions of the neuromuscular skeletal system.
Lifestyle factors can contribute to back pain
Most back pain is prolonged by lifestyle factors including:
- Lack of exercise
- Being overweight or obese
- Sitting for long periods
- Poor posture
Prevention of back pain
In most cases, back pain can be prevented by making regular visits to your Chiropractor and a few lifestyle changes. Some suggestions include:
- Exercise regularly – this is important not only for your spine but for your overall health and wellbeing. Exercise will also improve posture and increase muscle support of the spine. It is recommended we exercise for 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity. You should do some form of physical activity, no matter what your age, weight, health problems or abilities, and be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities incorporating fitness, strength, balance and flexibility. If you have stopped physical activity, or are starting a new physical activity, you should always start at a level that is easily manageable and gradually build up the recommended amount, type and frequency of activity.
- Lift and carry safely – if you are picking up a heavy load, squat down, hold the object as close to your body as practical and lift by using your legs (keeping your back straight). Get some help from another person or use equipment (such as a trolley) if the load is too heavy to manage comfortably on your own.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight is also very important for your spinal health and overall wellbeing – if you are overweight or obese you are putting extra strain on your back and all of the other parts of your body.
- Consider your posture – always be aware of your posture, especially in seated positions such as when driving or sitting at a desk for long periods of time. Don’t slump, keep your back upright and use support where necessary (such as a lumbar support cushion or footstool). See our work place assessment and car posture guides in The Ashgrove Spinal Centre Mobile App for help in this area.
- Change your mattress and/or pillows – surfaces that are too soft or too hard can aggravate a sore back. See Dr Bailey for more information on mattresses he recommends and pillows we prescribe.
Treatment of back pain
In the first couple of weeks after your onset of an episode of back pain, our treatment plan will be focused on reducing pain and maintaining movement. Treatment options include:
- Manual therapy – as qualified health professional Dr Bailey may use spinal adjustments, manipulation, traction or other manual therapies to help relieve pain and correct your condition.
- Heat and cold therapy – hot and cold packs applied to the area of pain may be helpful in relieving pain temporarily.
- Relative rest – this may mean temporarily reducing activity such as sport and heavy lifting.
- Exercise – Dr Bailey can prescribe an individual exercise program for you. Exercise may include stretching, mobility and strengthening exercises targeting the muscles stabilising and supporting your back.
Managing long-term back pain
Back pain, if not managed correctly, can be an ongoing problem for many people. As we explained above, statistics show about 50% of the people who have an episode of back pain, will experience it again. It is important to attend regular maintenance visits with your Chiropractor and continue the exercise program you have been prescribed to strengthen and condition your back even after the pain has subsided.
Talk to Dr Bailey about what exercises you can do on an ongoing basis to maintain the health of your back and for your general wellbeing. Recommended activities may include walking, swimming and cycling. It is important you learn about back pain and play an active role in your own treatment.Book An Appointment