When it comes to human anatomy, there are few more important body parts than our back. Sadly, it’s also one of the most neglected. As such, almost all of us will experience some kind of back pain during our lifetime.
When we refer to the ‘back’, we are generally talking about the spine. The spine is a very strong, stable chain of bones called vertebrae that not only connect the different parts of our skeleton but also gives us flexibility when we move, thanks to its elastic ligaments and spinal discs.
Often if we do feel back pain, it’s usually because of a minor strain or sprain in the spine. These usually heal within a few days without any real medical intervention.
Back pain is often referred to as ‘non-specific’, which means there is no obvious cause. A problem may originate in the joints, bones, or soft tissue, but they’re not the only cause of back pain, particularly lower back pain. There are several conditions that cause back pain, so let’s take a look at some of them below.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
One of the most well-known causes of back pain is sciatica. It’s a name many people know without really understanding what it is. Sciatica is an umbrella term for any pain that originates in the low back or pelvis and radiates into the buttock or legs. The most common understanding of sciatica is a condition that affects the Sciatic nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet. Irritation of this nerve can originate in the lumbar spine or pelvis causing local pain but this can also spread down from the buttocks, through the legs, and into the feet. Symptoms can include pain, burning, tingling, numbness and even weakness of the muscles in the leg.
Your discs don’t actually slip out but it’s another term that is often heard. According to the research the lumbar intervertebral discs are the most common cause of lower back pain and makeup around 40% of presentations to doctors and chiropractors, a slipped disc is better described as a herniated disc. The disc acts like a cushion, absorbing and distributing load through the spine. The “slip” occurs when the inner, softer part of the disc (nucleus pulposus) starts to bulge out through a weakness in the tougher outer layers (annular fibres). This can cause quite severe pain if the bulge is significant enough to compress the nerve roots as they exit the spine on their way to the legs and this can be associated with numbness, tingling and weakness in the leg and foot. Worsening leg symptoms are a cause for urgent assessment and a chiropractor can assess your symptoms to help decide if treatment or referral for an MRI is needed.
Ankylosing Spondylitis & Spondylolisthesis
Finally, the other most common causes share some similarities, if only in their name. They are ankylosing spondylitis and spondylolisthesis. The term ‘spondyl’ refers to the vertebra or vertebral connections. Ankylosing spondylitis is long-term inflammation of the spine which will often require medical management but is better when regular exercise is maintained, whereas spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the bones (as opposed to a disc) in your spine, aka the vertebra, slips out of position - usually only a fraction. This can be a result of trauma, repetitive strain (such as gymnastics or bowling in cricket for example), or a congenital condition. Most spondylolisthesis presentations are very stable but sore nonetheless, however high force injuries would require further investigation to assess instability.
Anyone who has experienced back pain will know how debilitating it can be. Outside of the minor aches and pains we’ll probably all experience, if you have some more serious conditions or back pain that isn’t improving quickly, then don’t wait for them to get better on their own. If you have any form of lower back pain, the best course of action is to speak to either your Doctor or a Chiropractor. Back pain that is treated early has a better outcome.
A trained chiropractor will specialise in helping to ease the pain and discomfort you’re feeling in your back. They have a range of services and techniques to reduce pain, increase mobility and improve day to day functioning. Also, they will have expertise in many key areas to help you with self-help, rehab and exercises and, if necessary, any changes to your lifestyle and movement patterns that might ease your symptoms - in many cases it’s fixing the problem in front of us but the longer-term benefit comes from learning to move in a way that utilises the strength of the back rather than hindering it.
If you would like to find out more about how Duston Chiropractic can help you, get in touch today on 01604 754456 or head over to our contact page for more details.
Nick has been treating patients for over 11 years. He currently works Duston Chiropractic Clinic