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Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Back Pain

I’m surprised to read statistics about how many Americans experience back pain. What are some of the causes of back pain, how can it be prevented and what kinds of treatment are available?

Low back pain occurs in 60% to 80% of adults at some point in their lives, and is second only to upper respiratory infections as a cause for absence from work. Although low back pain is usually a self-limited problem, it still costs approximately $24 billion per year in direct medical expenses and another $27 billion per year in lost productivity and compensation.

Almost 90% of all cases of low back pain are due to sprains and strains and by definition almost always improve. A much smaller percentage are due to herniation of a disk.

Disks are located in between each backbone and function as a shock absorber and allow the spine to flex and bend. They are a little like a candy with an outer shell and a soft inside. Herniation occurs when a break in the outside of the disk allows some of the soft inner portion to bulge out and press on an adjacent nerve root. As a result, the pain of a herniation often travels all the way one’s leg to the foot where sprains and strains are usually felt mostly in the lower back.

Just like shoulder blade pain, the treatment will depend on the factors. In an acute strain, bed rest or minimal activity for one to two days along with intermittent heat and over the counter pain relievers is often sufficient. An early return to activity and an exercise program are important.

If disk disease is suspected, treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and may range from the conservative treatment mentioned above or may include MRI scanning, injections into the disk space to reduce swelling and occasionally surgery.

Prevention is best managed through proper lifting and bending techniques, the use of commercially available support belts and the maintenance of proper posture. Active, aerobically fit individuals have fewer back injuries, miss fewer work days, and report fewer back pain symptoms.