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Common Back Pain Causes
It begins as a twinge. Whether you’re a weekend warrior, an elite athlete, or somewhere in between, there’s a strong chance that eventually you’ll deal with back pain. Here’s why: Everyday activities that you do without thinking — sitting at the computer, slipping on a pair of shoes, crawling into bed at night — can make or break your spine health. Most aches are caused by strains (injured muscles or tendons) or sprains (damage to the tough fibrous tissue, or ligaments, located where your vertebrae connect to joints). These injuries are typically brought on by overuse, a new activity, excessive lifting, or an accident. Other times, a compressed (aka pinched) nerve, such as in a herniated disk, is to blame for the ache.
Acute back pain comes on suddenly but improves over time; chronic pain worsens and can last months. If you don’t feel better after a few days, Call Doctors Care for an evaluation! We are Back Specialists and may recommend one or more of the following strategies: orthopedist, Chiropractor for musculoskeletal problems; a rheumatologist for joint problems; or a physical therapist or physiatrist for rehabilitation exercises. Doctors Care has the convenience and access to all the above specialist at our locations.
- Muscle or ligament strain.
Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. Constant strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms.
- Herniated, Bulging or ruptured disks.
Disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve.
Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
- Skeletal irregularities.
Back pain can occur if your spine curves abnormally. Scoliosis, a condition in which your spine curves to the side, also may lead to back pain.
Your spine’s vertebrae can develop compression fractures if your bones become porous and brittle.
- You’re a screen King or Queen.
Nine hours — that’s how long the average person spends hunched over or slouched in front of a screen each day. A Temple University study suggested that increased texting on our latest tech obsessions — smartphones and tablets — is creating more aches and pains in our shoulders, necks, and backs. “It’s important to take breaks, do neck exercises, and occasionally hold your phone or tablet out in front of you.
Sitting all day is hazardous, too. It puts more pressure on disks and vertebrae than standing or walking. Alleviate the tension with an office makeover. Start with a lumbar-support cushion. Then adjust your seat so your computer monitor is at eye level, your arms and knees are bent at a 90-degree angle, and your feet rest on the floor. Finally, download a free program that flashes screen reminders to take computer breaks as often as you schedule them.
- You ignore your core.
When you hear the word core, you picture six-pack abs. But your core is composed of much more: Back, side, pelvic, and buttock muscles all work together, along with your abs, to allow you to bend, twist, rotate, and stand upright. “Your core is like a crane that supports all of your movements. Unlike crunches, which focus solely on abdominal muscles, core exercises — lunges, squats, planks, and others — strengthen several spine-supporting muscle groups at once.
- You sleep on your stomach.
The bedtime belly flop places pressure on joints and muscles, but sleeping on your side or back keeps your spine elongated and neutral. If you must snooze on your tummy, slide a thin pillow under your hips to alleviate pressure on disks, ligaments and muscles. Regardless of your slumber sweet spot, go with a medium mattress (check the manufacturer’s scale of firmness and opt for one in the middle range) and a pillow that keeps your head in line with your spine. Your bed should be, not too hard (this wreaks havoc on hips and shoulders) and not too soft (this puts your back and joints out of whack).
- You like to light up.
Cigarettes aren’t just hell on your heart and lungs. “Smokers have a higher incidence of recurring back problems. The cause and effects of this are many. Nicotine restricts blood flow to vertebrae and disks, so they may age and break down more quickly. It may also interfere with the body’s ability to absorb and use calcium, leading to osteoporosis-related bone and back problems. You know what you have to do: Quit! Go to smokefree.gov to customize your own smoking cessation plan.
It’s no secret that struggling with pain can take a toll on your mental health, and studies have shown that people with back pain are more likely to be depressed. But now doctors are discovering that the reverse may be true as well: In research from the University of Alberta in Canada, people with major depression were four times as likely to develop disabling low-back and neck pain. Some scientists believe that poor coping skills related to depression, such as withdrawing or avoiding problems, may trigger the release of the stress hormone cortisol, causing back and shoulder muscles to tense up and spasm. The result can be a devastating cycle of chronic pain and depression. Antidepressants as well as mood enhancers like exercise, meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help ease stress and make you feel better.
- You’re a slave to fashion.
Sure, sky-high stilettos are a no-no, but it turns out that flats can cause trouble, too. “Sandals and flip-flops often provide little, if any, arch support. Continuous wear can lead to back, knee, and foot problems down the line. But don’t worry: You needn’t settle for all function and no flair. Alternate styles throughout the week — from high to low, sneakers to sandals — and avoid wearing a particular pair every day. Shoes should fit properly and offer good arch and heel support. If you walk to work or the bus stop, wear shock-absorbing sneakers, then slip on cuter kicks once you get to the office. Your purse could also be to blame, especially if it’s huge and you’re lugging it on one shoulder. Try a tote with a wide, padded strap; carry it messenger style; and lighten the load. According to the American Chiropractic Association, your bag should weigh less than 10 percent of your body weight.
- You baby your back.
Lying down minimizes stress on the lumbar spine; however, staying sedentary for more than a day or two can actually prolong and worsen pain. In a new study from Sweden, back pain sufferers who remained active recovered more quickly and felt less depressed than those who took it easy. Low-impact activities like walking and swimming boost blood flow to back muscles while relieving pain and stiffness. Yoga, with its emphasis on stretching and strengthening, may be one of the most effective spine soothers. After three months of weekly sessions, 60 percent of back-pain sufferers who participated in an Archives of Internal Medicine study reported less discomfort, and 40 percent were able to cut back on pain meds.
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NJ Institute for Spine & Joint Pain. 901 North Wood Avenue Linden, NJ 07036