A healthy back is straight and strong, moves easily and is free of pain. When there is pain in any area of the back for a very long period of time, this is called chronic back injury, or chronic back pain. The most common area of chronic back injury is the lower back. This area is also called the lumbar spine.
Back pain is usually defined as either acute or chronic. Doctors may diagnose low back pain as acute if it lasts less than a month and is not caused by serious medical conditions. Most cases clear up in a few days without medical attention, although recurrence after a first attack is common. If the pain persists, it is considered chronic back injury, also called chronic back pain. This constitutes only 1% to 5% of back pain cases.
Herniated discs are also a common source of back pain. Inside each disc is a jelly-like substance and 80% of the disc is water, which makes it very elastic. A disc does not contain any blood and relies on nearby blood vessels to keep it nourished. A herniated disc occurs when the cartilage between the vertebrae tears. As a result the cartilage and its contents will bulge out from between the vertebrae, often putting pressure on the nerves in the area.
HOW COMMON IS CHRONIC BACK PAIN?
- Almost 20 million (2 in 3) Canadians will have at least one episode of back pain in their lifetime.
- 600,000 (1 in 50) Canadians will be disabled by it.
- Chronic back injury occurs in both men and women.
- It can affect people of any age, but older people are more likely to have chronic back pain.
Back pain is the most prevalent medical disorder in industrialized societies.
WHAT ARE THE WARNING SIGNS OF CHRONIC BACK INJURY?
- If you have pain in the back that lasts for longer than a few days but less than a month this is called acute back injury.
- If the pain lasts longer than month this is called chronic back injury.
- The pain can be anywhere in the back. It can be in one area only or spread across a wide area.
- Your back might be stiff and the muscles swollen. This combination of pain, stiffness and swelling is called inflammation.
- Some injuries will cause muscles spasms in the back, and pain or weakness in a leg.
Back pain can develop anywhere from the neck to the lower spine. The pain can be localized or spread across a wide area and radiate from a central point. Muscle spasms may occur at the site of the pain. Some people also get pain or weakness in a leg as a result of back injury.
WHAT CAUSES CHRONIC BACK INJURY?
- Many times the cause of chronic back injury is not known.
- Poor posture is the most common cause of back pain.
- Injury due to lifting heavy objects is also a frequent cause of back pain.
- Being overweight and not exercising enough can increase your risk of back injury.
- If your back is weak you can get back pain when you get upset or feel stressed.
- Some types of arthritis can cause chronic back pain.
PROTECT YOUR JOINTS
- Be kind to your body. After doing heavy work, or doing the same task over and over, stop and rest.
- Use your back, arms and legs in safe ways to avoid putting stress on joints.
- When you lift a heavy item keep it as close to your body as possible. Keep your back straight and use your legs to do the lifting.
- Use helpful devices such as a cart to carry your grocery bags.
- Maintain a healthy weight to avoid putting extra stress on your joints.
- Be aware of your posture and be sure to stand and sit straight.
- Wear proper walking shoes that support your feet and help keep your back and legs straight.
- Sleep on a firm mattress and support your neck properly with pillows. Do not sleep on your stomach as this can strain your neck.
- Get proper nutrition and maintain regular physical activity.