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Backaches may not be that 'simple' after all

Suffering from a backache? Here is doctors advice right in the comfort of your home.

Written by Dr Arjun Srivatsa |Updated : February 26, 2014 3:22 PM IST

BackpainBackache seems to be affecting people than ever before. Sedentary lifestyles, poor posture and a bad diet have left people with chronic backaches. Most people just move on with life neglecting it till it comes to a point when day-to-day activities seem tough. Dr Arjun Srivatsa, renowned neurologist, gets many patients with such complaints. In this post, he reveals how a backache may not be that 'simple' after all.

Varied causes for backache

There are some injuries that can lead to a backache, like lifting heavy weights, sudden jerk to the back, certain sports injuries, etc. Other factors include sciatica pain caused mainly due to the compression of a nerve in the back, orthopaedic reasons like degenerative disc disease, fusion of vertebrae, crack or trauma to the vertebrae, compression of the disc, degeneration of the cartilage, herniated disc, disc tear, spondylolithesis (where the muscles of the back can no longer support it, leading to shifting in the vertebra), spinal stenosis (where the spinal cord is compressed) and scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine). (Read:Lower back pain: Why you shouldn't ignore it)

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Back pains are of different types

Although there are those aches that arise out of straining the back, like in the case of people who lift heavy objects improperly or on a regular basis, there are other more serious issues that arise out of other causes. Here is a list of symptoms that could indicate a more serious cause of backache:

Back pain that is experienced early in the morning may be due to degenerative disc disease. Most commonly seen in elderly people it can also happen in people who play a lot of sports or workout a lot.

If a person suffers from pain that radiates down the legs it is most probably due to a disc prolapse. This condition causes the compression of nerves leading to severe pain and discomfort depending on the severity of the compression. If one of the larger vertebral discs are involved it can affect the neck, it can cause paralysis. (Read: Tips to live with chronic back pain)

Take the pain seriously

In most cases a backache resolves with medication and some rest, but if the pain persists or is accompanied with weakness of the legs, it is important that one visit a spine surgeon for better medical care.

How is it diagnosed?

In most non-serious cases a backache is diagnosed by a physical examination. But if the person has suffered an injury to the back, or has been suffering from prolonged backache, the doctor may prescribe an X-ray. In serious cases where nerve compression is suspected, one may need to get an MRI. (Read:Diagnosis and tests for back pain)

Treatment is possible

As a first line of treatment, a doctor may advice the patient to get enough rest. It is important to understand that though rest is a good way to deal with back pain, too much can cause more harm than good. Other treatment options include painkillers and anti inflammatory medication, hot or cold therapy (also known as diathermy), and in some cases a massage might help.

(Read:Painkillers or analgesics: Side-effects and precautions)

If the reason for the back ache is severe, treatment can include surgery (to release the compressed nerve, to fuse vertebrae in the case of degenerative disc disease, replacing degenerated cartilage between vertebrae with a prosthetic one or replace a prolapsed disc). Another type of non surgical treatment is traction. Used mainly to treat only a few types of conditions, it is performed under a doctor's supervision in the hospital.

Prevention is better than cure

Exercise regularly: It is important to exercise on a regular basis since it helps a person lose weight, which in turn helps to reduce the amount of stress on the vertebral column.

Healthy diet: A well balanced and healthy diet goes a long way in managing backaches. It helps keep one's weight in check and certain calcium rich foods help strengthens the bones. Dairy products, green leafy vegetables and fortified products, like orange juice etc. helpmaintain good bone health.

Practice good posture: Supporting one's back properly and avoiding heavy lifting only when one can, goes a long way in preventing injuries. Lift weights by keeping your back straight. Bend at the knees and lift the object. This way you will transfer the weight to your legs and not your back. (Read:Top 5 bad postures that can affect your health)

  • Avoid sitting on recliners: Straight back chairs good
  • Drink plenty of water: It enhances the height of the intervertebral disks, keeping them healthy.
  • Avoid sitting long periods of time.
  • At work - Avoid sitting at the desk for long hours. Take regular breaks every 2 hours. Stretch your legs and back while you are at it.

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