Whether chronic or occasional, back pain is a very common phenomenon in industrialized countries. Want proof? Nearly 20 million Canadians suffer with backache at least once in their life, according to the Arthritis Society. Let’s take the time to get the lowdown on the subject.
The parts of your back
The spinal column is one of the complex structures of the human body, made up of bones tied together with muscles, ligaments and tendons. Together, they form your back.
This area of the body, which stretches from shoulders to kidneys, carries a major proportion of our weight. Both fragile and strong, we call on its expertise for almost every one of our body movements, thus exposing it all the more to injury.
The causes of back pain
Although back pain can show up at any point along the spinal column, in most cases it strikes your lower back, where the lumbar vertebrae are situated. That’s why we speak of “lumbago.”
The majority of backaches are not related to disease, but more to effort, especially repetitive actions, bad posture, a woman’s monthly period or the aging process.
Several factors can increase the risk of suffering back pain, including:
- lack of physical exercise or overtraining;
- being overweight;
- wearing high-heeled shoes;
- prolonged stress, since it brings on muscle strain.
Furthermore, some back pain can be caused by:
- problems in the bones (e.g. lordosis, scoliosis);
- a sprain or a muscle strain;
- disc degeneration or herniated disc;
- trauma, such as a fall or fracture.
Although they can threaten your quality of life, most back pain is mild and can be effectively relieved by a change of environment or the development of new habits or by occasional medication.
Nevertheless, you should see a doctor without delay if your back pain:
- comes as the result of an injury;
- is constant or increases, especially at night;
- spreads to your legs or causes swelling, tingling or a weakness in your legs;
- appears at the same time as intestinal or urinary problems (including urinary incontinence);
- is connected to unexplained weight loss, to chills or a fever.
There are many ways to find temporary relief from lower back pain, that is, lumbago. Depending on the origin of the pain, applying heat, for example with the use of a heating pad or a “magic” bag, can help relax the muscles. Applying cold can numb the pain and reduce inflammation.
Various medications are available over the counter to relieve back pain: analgesics, anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants. These are available in various forms (capsules, tablets or adhesive patches) and serve to lessen the pain. These products are not suitable for everyone. It is better to consult your pharmacist to learn which is best for your needs.
People who suffer from chronic back pain can also turn to alternative therapies (physiotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, chiropractic or osteopathic medicine). If this interests you, inquire with associations or professional orders which can direct you to a therapist you can trust.
As in many other situations, with back pain an ounce of prevention is always worth a pound of cure! Here are a few tips that can help:
- achieve and maintain a healthy body weight;
- do regular physical exercise; yoga and Pilates are especially efficient because they help improve your muscle strength and elasticity;
- alternate light tasks with those that are more demanding or repetitive and take regular breaks;m
- be aware of your posture and always stand erect;
- always lift heavy objects while bending your knees;
- avoid twisting your back;
- sleep on your back or your side;
- don’t stay a long time in the same position; think about using a desk with variable height if you work all day at a computer;
- wear comfortable and well-fitting shoes and, for women, with heels no higher than 5 cm;
- use a knapsack rather than a purse or a shoulder bag to carry your laptop and personal items (and wear it correctly, on both shoulders!).
Your family pharmacist can help to ease your lumbago effectively, whether through non- pharmacological means or by taking medications, when appropriate. Feel free to contact him!