Last Updated on 28 July 2020 by Ray Plumlee

Back Pain Symptoms and Causes
It seems as if back pain is a right of passage for adults: if you haven’t experienced back pain, you haven’t fully experienced adulthood.

Unfortunately, back pain of all types is a real problem and according to studies including one conducted by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, over 80% adults have experienced low back pain at some point in their lives. Add to this, the numbers of people who experience pain their mid-backs and necks, and the numbers increase even more.

The Most Common Type of Back Pain

At our chiropractic office, Chiropractor Wasilla AK, patients visit for a variety of issues related to back pain. Part of the treatment programs involve education about the structure of the back and why it is at the root of most back pain.

In a peer-reviewed literature review published by Roger Chou, MD, he finds that most low back pain – over 85% of people who suffer from back pain – comes from a nonspecific cause.

Most adults “attribute their back pain to a degenerating disc or arthritis, although problems in muscles or ligaments or other causes may be equally responsible.” This is why understanding the structure of the spine is helpful for adults, since most will experience back pain in their lives.

Structure of the Back

The spine consists of several features: bones (vertebrae), muscles, nerves, and other types of precise tissues. They help the body bend, sit, and stand erect. All of the vertebrae build the spinal column which protects the spinal cord that rests in the openings of each vertebrae. Nerve roots extend from the spinal cord through little holes in the vertebrae.

Each vertebrae has a disc that serves as a cushion. Each disc is made of two distinct tissues, a gel on the inside and tough tissue on the outside. The vertebrae also have various ligaments and tendons that keep them aligned  as the spine moves.

back structure

The spine has four regions: cervical, thoracic, lumbar, and sacral. The cervical section is at the top of the spine and includes the neck. The thoracic vertebrae are at the mid-back. The lumbar vertebrae are at the lower back. And, the sacrum does not have any vertebrae, instead it has the sacrum and coccyx at the bottom of the spine.

Acute vs Chronic Pain

There are two degrees of back pain: acute and chronic. Acute back pain is short term and usually lasts for a few days or a few weeks. If the pain lasts for more than 12 weeks, it is considered chronic. Unfortunately, acute pain can turn into chronic pain, as chronic pain can persist long after the acute trauma has been treated.

Exercise and Back Pain

One of the most exciting studies to be recently released was a review of exercise and whether or not it successfully treats low back pain.

In a study published in Healthcare, researchers found that exercise programs that involved “either muscular strength, flexibility or aerobic fitness” were beneficial for people who suffered from non-specific chronic low back pain.

Unfortunately, the same was not true for patients with acute low back pain. But, those who have acute back pain usually recover within one or two months no matter what they do and exercising can actually irritate the troubled area.

In his literature review, Dr. Chou recommends how to use exercise to prevent and treat back pain. He explains how an exercise program can improve the flexibility of the back and strengthen the muscles. People with back pain might experience some discomfort as they begin an exercise program, but that discomfort will be short-lived as the back gets stronger.

The best exercises for the back are low-impact activities like swimming, cycling, and walking. High-impact activities can hurt the back. For many people with back pain, their health care providers might recommend exercising for the rest of their lives.

Recommended activities include those that involve strengthening and stretching, such as walking, swimming, use of a stationary bicycle, and low-impact aerobics. Avoid activities that involve twisting, bending, are high-impact, or make the back hurt more. Some specific exercises may help strengthen the muscles of the lower back.

People with frequent episodes of low back pain should continue these exercises indefinitely to prevent new episodes. According to a study published in Current Rheumatology Reports, pain from osteoarthritis in the low back can be successfully treated with exercise programs like yoga and gentle stretching.

What Causes Back Pain

It is helpful for adults to understand how back pain begins. Non-specific back pain can begin in a variety of ways. According to Dr. Chau, back pain can begin at work. Poor posture and repetitive sitting or standing can create back pain. When people have to lift frequently and they do it improperly or they lift loads that are too heavy, back pain is often a common result.

Driving for too long or performing high-impact activities can also create back pain. It is not uncommon for people who sit at their desks all day to have back pain, just as common as people who have to regularly lift throughout their workdays.

Interestingly, adults can develop back pain due to psychological issues like depression and stress. Fortunately, psychological factors can be treated with counseling and people who suffer from back pain related to psychological disorders often see positive outcomes.

Physical and Biological Causes of Back Pain

Adults can also have back pain because of physical issues that manifest in the back. Some of the common disorders include degenerative disc disease, herniated discs, and spinal stenosis. When the small discs degenerate, bone spurs can develop on the vertebrae. Herniated discs can create weakness and pain, but the discs will heal over time.

All of these problems can be incredibly painful, but can all be treated. Another common problem is osteoarthritis. According to a study published in Current Rheumatology Reports, low back pain and osteoarthritis can also come from genetic and biological factors, which is why low back pain is so difficult to fully understand.



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Having earned his Bachelor of Science at the University of Nevada, and his doctorate from Western States Chiropractic College, Dr. Brent Wells found his professional passion fairly early in his career. Instead of simply treating his patients, Dr. Wells strives to help everyone to understand how a few basic changes in habit result in better health. This passion was realized when he founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998.

Personal experience has given him as much (if not more insight) into what it is like to deal with other healthcare professionals. Aiming for a more personal approach, his care comes from compassion and a desire to provide the best care. Instead of treating just the problem, his goal is to offer patients a better quality of life.

Tagged on: acute back pain    aerobic fitness    arthritis    bones    cervical    chiropractor    chronic back pain    cycling    degenerating disc    degenerative disc disease    disc    Exercise    herniated discs    ligaments    lumbar    muscles    nerves    Non-specific back pain    osteoarthritis    sacral    spinal stenosis    spine    swimming    tendons    thoracic    vertebrae    walking
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