What is a Backache?
Backache is described as mild to severe pain or discomfort occurring in the lower back or lumbar area. More strain is placed on the lower part of the back because it carries the weight of the upper body in addition to your own weight. The pain may be caused by an accident, injury, swelling, degenerative changes, congenital or metabolic disease or development of a tumor. Often the pain and discomfort becomes worse when a person bends forward.
Older people may find that they also experience problems in their legs because of the undue pressure on the spinal nerves. Most cases of backache may be acute or chronic. Acute backache starts suddenly and severely, and lasts for a short period of time. There are often recurrences that may lead to chronic backache. Chronic back ache may be triggered by the slightest movements and is more stubborn, often persisting for three months or longer.
Symptoms and signs
- Pain across the middle and lower back that sometimes spreads into the hips, buttocks, back of the thighs and groin
- Muscle spasm surrounding the spine
- Limited movement of the spine when leaning back and bending forward
- Back may tilt to one’s side and cause a change in posture
- Pain sometimes occurs with a tingling sensation or numbness in the back, buttocks or leg
Diagnosing a Backache
The diagnosis of backache is determined by a full physical examination as well as your medical history will be taken. Your doctor will most probably enquire about the duration, frequency and nature of the pain – when did the pain start; what triggered the pain; is it a throbbing, burning or piercing pain; and what worsens the pain? Inform your doctor if you have also experienced any previous back injuries or backache.
Certain tests will be ordered if pain is very severe, treatment is not working and to rule any other underlying conditions.
These tests include:
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
- CT scans (computerized tomography)
- Bone scan
- Electrodiagnostic studies
What Causes a Backache?
Backache may be as a result of an accident or injury or an underlying condition (degenerative, metabolic or congenital).
Conditions that may cause backache
Conditions that may cause backache include:
- Degenerative diseases such as spinal stenosis, spondylitic disease; discogenic disease; facet joint hypertrophy
- Traumatic injuries or accidents such as vertebral fractures; lumbar strains and sprains; ligamentous injuries, musculoskeletal injuries
- Inflammation such as arachnoiditis; arthritis (e.g. Ankolysing Spondylitis)
- Bacterial or viral infections such as meningitis ; vertebral osteomyelitis; epidural absess; urinary tract infection; intervertebral discitis; radiculopathy
- Congenital diseases such as spondylosis; tethered cord syndromes
- Metabolic diseases such as osteoporosis; Paget’s Disease; diabetic radiculopathy
- A tumor, which can either be a benign tumor or malignant. A malignant tumor can be primary or metastatic.
Contributing factors to a backache
Several factors may contribute to and increase the risk of backache:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Poor posture
- Psychological factors
- Work-related factors
Help for a Backache
Mild symptoms of backache may be relieved by applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to the affected area. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or paracetamol can help to reduce swelling and ease pain. More severe symptoms of backache may be treated with analgesics, NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, trigger point and ligament injections.
Physical therapy that involves TENS (trans-electrical nerve stimulation), behavioral therapy, back exercises, spinal manipulation and EMG feedback is also beneficial. Your doctor may also refer you to a chiropractor for spinal manipulation. Other treatment options that are effective when used together with medication include acupuncture, massage, hydrotherapy, biofeedback, meditation and yoga.
Natural and holistic medicine has been used for thousands of years to treat the pain and discomfort of backache. Treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies are safe and gentle to use without the unwanted side effects of prescription medicine. These herbs do not only provide symptomatic relief but are also effective for your overall health and wellbeing.
Herbal ingredients such as Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw) boasts powerful properties that help to maintain back health while Glucosamine sulphate is excellent for joints and cartilages. In addition, Boswellia serata promotes joint and muscle comfort and mobility.
More Information on a Backache
Tips to help prevent backache
There are several useful tips to avoid backache and these include:
- Improve your posture
- Regular back and abdominal exercises can keep your back in excellent physical condition
- Ensure that your mattress provides firm support
- Sleep on your side (in an "S" shape) or place pillows between your knees to provide comfort to your back
- If you lift heavy objects, bend at the hips and knees, and keep your back straight
- Wear flat shoes with a good arch support if you stand for long periods of time
- Take regular breaks and move around rather than sit or stand in one position for several hours
- Sit on an ergonomic chair when working on a computer or make sure that your chair supports the small of your back
- Reduce the weight of your handbag, as a heavy load creates stress on your spine
- Avoid wearing high heeled shoes, as they can lead to back pain