Back pain is occurring at almost epidemic rates in the US. I would like to give a little information about its causality and how to prevent it and manage it. Back pain can occur because of other non-orthopedic problems like kidney, ovarian, liver etc. and we will not discuss that today. It can also occur as a result of infection, fracture/trauma which we will not discuss today either.
What we will discuss today are the kinds of back pain that everyone tends to have during their lifetime. This kind of pain is a result of many factors. The combination of these factors together results in the presence or absence of pain. Because of the tremendous increase in back pain, we see pain clinics that did not exist previously and there is tremendous research into the reasons people are having more back pain.
Numerous studies show that all people gradually develop wear/arthritis in their backs. This process is seen in people as young as 30 in approximately 30% of the population. By the time you are 60-70 100% of the population has these wear changes that we can now objectively measure with imaging, like XR and MRI and CT. Interestingly, studies tend to show very little relationship between the presence of these inevitable wear changes and the presence of pain. There are, however, numerous things that do seem to relate to the presence of back pain. Some but not all of these things are core strength and symmetry meaning the strength of back and stomach muscles. Other predictive things are how much sitting, depression and smoking. In general, backs like to be flexible, well supported with good muscle strength and balance, good posture and conversely, they do not like people to gain weight and lose core muscle strength and sit and smoke.
I will borrow a comment made by a physical therapy friend who stated that backs have not changed genetically in decades, nor has gravity increased so there must be something that has changed that keeps him so busy treating the increasing number of patients who have back pain. The things noted above are the risk factors for back pain that have increased that are causing us so much trouble.
With the above information, I hope you feel more empowered to adopt the healthy lifestyle things that will keep your back from hurting. When it does hurt, some of those same things are helpful in making it better as well. When it is not working, I will cover some of the things doctors such as myself can do to help you.
Dr. T. Scott McGee