Common Causes of Back pain
Back pain is ubiquitous, the majority of us will get an episode of back pain at some point
and up to 20% of us are experiencing it right now.
There are many causes of back pain.
These can range from joint pain, muscle strains and ligament strains.
It is also contributed to by pain related to disc injury or nerve compression.
However, the most important message here is that the majority of back pain is not serious.
Advances in imaging such as MRI and CT scans can often show up deviations from the norm.
Say for example a bulging disc or a narrowing joint space, and these deviations can really look like they should be painful, especially when seen clearly in a good quality scan.
But here’s the rub.
The correlation of pain to a problem identified in scans is poor.
For example, up 87% of the population will have a disc bulge with no pain and up to 37% of 20-year-olds will have disk “degeneration” with no pain.
So what does this all mean?
It means that most back pain is not serious and, in many ways, as long as the pain is not disabling or being experienced with what are called “red flag” symptoms, it can be managed simply and without worry.
We have over medicalised the problem and are now the tendency is towards over- treating with strong pain medication and sometimes surgery.
Most back pain will resolve with exercise and time.
No one form of exercise is better than another and any movement is far better than none.
The risk of making your back worse or damaging it through exercise is very low.
It is, however, possible to provoke a sore back so that it feels like you have damaged it.
This is called a flare-up.
So the trick is to exercise in the least provocative way.
This means you should test your exercises and use the least painful ones most often.
This will help you to feel better through an increase in the body’s feel-good chemicals.
You should also continue to work on the more painful exercises, just with a bit of care.
Not because you will damage yourself but because it will help you to manage your back pain in a non-provocative way.
This will help to increase your confidence and reduce your sensitivity.
This means its OK to bend!
Bending is normal, safe and healthy. You don’t have to do it if its sore for you, but you should work towards being able to do it again.
So back to the main question:
When to worry about back pain? What causes back pain?
Answer: Quite a few things and most of them are not serious.
A better question might be, What makes back pain worse?
These are things like:
- low mood
- poor diet
- and smoking
which all contribute to increasing our perception of pain.
So where possible, if you try to address any of these areas and start to explore movement, you will begin to exert much more control over your pain and begin to feel better.
When to worry about back pain
Finally, red flag symptoms are symptoms which if you experience them mean you should seek a medical opinion, these include back pain with any of the following:
- Loss of sensation in the area around the rectum
- changes in your toilet habits such as not being able to urinate or defecate
- not being able to stop yourself from going
- or strong pain radiating down both legs
Similarly, persistent back pain, accompanied by sudden unexpected weight loss should be reviewed by your doctor also.
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