A back ache is a pain in the lumbar (i.e. the low back area), the lumbosacral (area between the low back and the sacrum bone) or cervical region (i.e. neck) of your spine. Back aches vary widely in terms of intensity and quality, and this is often related to the type of problem that underlies the pain.
Causes Of A Back Ache
Causes of a back ache may include muscle strain or other muscular disorders. It may also include pressure on a nerve root. A nerve root is a bundle of nervous tissue that branches off from the spinal cord. The nerve root then becomes a spinal nerve. The spinal nerve passes through holes made between adjacent vertebra and traverses out to the body to enervate a specific area known as a a dermatome (for sensations you feel) or myotomes (for impulses to move and motor control). Pressure on a nerve root can be caused by herniated disc and other things.
- What Is A Spinal Nerve Root?
- Herniated Disc
- The Daily Spine - Ways You Can Avoid a Back Muscle Strain
As the largest nerve in the body, the sciatic nerve is perhaps the best example of a nerve pressured by a herniated disc. The sciatic nerve can also be pressured by the piriformis muscle in a condition known as piriformis syndrome, but this is rare.
When a herniated disc pressures a nerve root you may notice sensations, weakness or other symptoms down your arm or leg. These symptoms are collectively known as radiculopathy.
Another thing that causes back aches is spinal arthritis and resultant conditions such as spinal stenosis. In these conditions, bone remodeling takes place, a process that alters the normal shape of the vertebra that comprise the spinal column. Often the spaces in the spinal column (i.e. the spinal canal and the intervertebral foramen) are encroached upon by new bone formed during this disease process. Spinal arthritis, stenosis and/or encroachment may limit your ability to move your spine and can cause pain.
- Bone Remodeling
- Neck Arthritis
- Two Tips for Dealing with The Day To Day Challenges of Spinal Arthritis
- Does Being Overweight Make Your Spinal Arthritis Hurt?
- Spinal Stenosis
Treatments for Back Aches
Treatments for backaches are broadly divided two categories. The first, known as conservative care (also called non-invasive treatment), may consist of medication, physical therapy and reduced activity. Conservative care is usually tried first, before more invasive treatment such as back surgery.
So what types of therapies might your doctor or physical therapist administer to you during a bout of conservative care? Some possibilities include ultrasound, back exercise, back school, training of proper biomechanics during your "activities of daily living" and the use of devices, such as neck braces or back belts, that provide structural support to the vulnerable area(s) during the healing period. Generally you'll get these treatments via physical therapy.
- Physical Therapy Modalities
- Back Exercise Programs
- Try a Posture Exercise Program
- Gardening Tasks - Watch Your Biomechanics
Medications are also used as part of a conservative treatment plan. Your doctor may tell you to take an over the counter pain medication, or she may prescribe stronger doses of same drugs. Doctors also prescribe muscle relaxers to their patients with back aches. Taking a muscle relaxer may help you make faster progress in your physical therapy appointments.
- Types of Over the Counter Pain Medications
- Choose An Effective Pain Medication
- Types of Muscle Relaxers
And finally, a growing interest in and use of holistic therapies for back aches is changing the landscape of back pain treatment. For example, studies done on yoga show that these treatments hold promise for many types of back aches.
Related: Yoga Research Update
The second group of treatment for back aches is called invasive treatment. Generally this includes back surgery, minimally invasive procedures and certain types of pain management procedures.
Related: About Back Surgery