Tuesday, 18 December 2012

The complex nature of back pain

This post is from this month's health section of the New Hamburg Independent.  It takes a brief look at the complex nature of back pain.  Research is continuing to show that people experience pain for reasons far beyond what can be explained with x-ray and MRI machines- keep reading to find out why!
Researchers show back pain is more than just muscle and joint damage

 Low back pain is an extremely common condition, and is something approximately 80% of us will experience at some point in our lives. When we suffer a flare up, it is often assumed that we have done something wrong.

“I slept wrong and sprained a joint,” or “I lifted wrong and strained a muscle,” are common explanations I hear in practice.

However, there likely is more to the story, especially with chronic low back pain.

A group of prominent researchers have recently reviewed and summarized all of the best studies on this common type of low back pain.  Surprisingly, these researchers showed that many lifestyle, social and psychological factors are more strongly linked to back pain than are many anatomical causes.

For instance, a common anatomical change we often attribute back pain to involves degenerative changes throughout the spine. In short, this involves a decrease in fluid content in the spongy discs that separate your vertebrae, and a wearing down of the cartilage of the joints at the back of your spine.

While it is logical to suspect that these anatomical changes are associated with low back pain, these researchers have shown that they are not nearly as concerning as we once thought.

Instead, lifestyle factors such as smoking, being overweight, and perceiving yourself as generally unhealthy is more strongly connected to back pain. In addition, psychological and social issues such as depression, anxiety, low job satisfaction, monotonous work, and poor social support are all linked to an increased risk of back pain.

Thus, while strained muscles and associated joint issues play a role in low back pain, this review clearly shows that any pain you may be feeling, especially if it is chronic, is likely a result of a collection of factors involved in your life.

Since the cause of the chronically painful low back is a result of a multitude of factors, logically the solution should also include a number of approaches.

That being said, it is important to note that we are only referring to the most common type of back pain, which is called ‘mechanical low back pain’.

There are less common, but quite serious, conditions that must be ruled out if you are suffering from back pain. Some of these include tumors, infections, and traumas. Also, if there are neurological symptoms such as shooting or electrical pain down your leg, or numbness and tingling, then something beyond mechanical low back pain is affecting you that must be diagnosed and treated.

If you do fall into the category of suffering from mechanical low back pain, the solution comes down to identifying and addressing all of the contributing factors of your pain. For some, that may mean quitting smoking, losing weight, and finding a more enjoyable job. For others, that may mean learning to cope with stress more effectively, developing a better social network, and putting into place a plan to treat their depression.

Regardless of the person, mechanical low back pain should always be treated with some form of physical activity. Specific exercises for the back that help to strengthen and stabilize the entire core should be implemented. General cardiovascular and strength training should also be added to the plan of management for the best results.

So is back pain related to problems with our anatomy? Absolutely. Tearing a muscle, spraining a joint, and developing osteoarthritis undoubtedly hurts, and these factors should not be ignored. However, this line of researcher shows that you should not just stop there, and that improving your psychological, social and lifestyle health will go a long way.

1 comment:

  1. Yes you are right, cardiovascular and strength training is a must too!

    All the best,
    Seattle Chiropractor