Back pain problems usually have one of three main causes: injuries like falls or automobile accidents or trauma in contact sports like football can result in chronic back pain. Poor body mechanics (like improper lifting) and poor posture may cause back pain because of chronic muscle tension and spasm. Degenerative problems are often the primary cause of back pain. As people age, the cartilage between the bones of the spine may degenerate from wear and tear. Degeneration can also occur from overuse, such as work that regularly stresses the spine. Arthritis of the spine is another possible source of back pain.
The spine is composed of 33 bones (vertebrae), with a spongy cushion of cartilage between each bone called a disc. Each vertebra has a hole in the center, through which runs the spinal cord. The nerves that control the rest of the body run off the spinal cord along the length of the spine. The spine is stabilized by muscles, tendons and ligaments, which provide strength and allow the body to twist, bend, rotate and flex backward. Flexibility and multiple interlinked moving parts mean that if any structure is weakened, damaged or diseased, other structures in the spine must take up the load, which can result in pain.
Treatment for back pain depends on the cause of the problem and the severity of symptoms. A muscle sprain is usually treated with a few days of rest, ice and/or heat. Medications to reduce inflammation may be helpful, especially in the early stages of an acute injury. Exercise is important in any back pain treatment program. Strong muscles support the spine, and flexibility helps prevent injury. Walking also helps provide oxygen to muscles and promote tissue healing. Massage may be helpful. Oral pain medication and muscle relaxants may relieve symptoms. For pain that persists beyond more than a few days, physical therapy may be prescribed. An epidural steroid injection and/or joint injections in the spine can relieve pain in some cases. In most cases, surgery should be considered only after all conservative treatments have been tried.
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