Back pain, especially lower back pain, is quite common. In fact, as per World Health Organization, at least 619 million people across the globe were affected by low back pain in 2020. It is estimated that the number of lower back pain cases will go up to 843 million by 2050. As the cases are increasing, myths about back pain are also spreading like fire. So, read on to know the facts about back pain.
We might think back pain strikes only elderly people. But the truth is that it is a common ailment experienced by people of all ages around the world. It can present in various ways, such as sharp, dull aching or burning sensations that may extend to the buttocks, hips or legs, explains Dr Vipin Mohan, Consultant, Department of Orthopaedics, Amrita Hospital, Kochi. The pain can be constant, intermittent, or triggered by certain activities.
Apart from pain and discomfort, back pain may include sensations of numbness, tingling or weakness. These may be signs of possible nerve damage. Ignoring such symptoms can lead to severe consequences due to irreversible neurological impairment.
Certain warning signs help to identify potential underlying issues related to back pain.
• Sharp pain suggests muscle or ligament injuries or problems with internal organs.
• Radiating pain could be a sign of nerve compression conditions, and a ruptured or herniated disc may cause sciatica, resulting in leg pain.
• The onset of sudden leg weakness could indicate nerve compression or even a stroke.
• Incontinence or saddle anaesthesia (loss of sensation in the buttocks, genital area and inner thighs) may signify severe nerve or spine conditions.
Causes of back pain
Back pain can arise from various conditions –
• In our younger years (20s and 30s), everyday factors like sitting too long, lifting children or overdoing exercise can contribute to typical mechanical back pain.
• Injuries from falls can also lead to back pain, says the expert.
• Issues with intervertebral discs, which act as cushions between spinal bones, may cause discomfort when they rupture or bulge, irritating nearby nerves and causing back and leg pain.
• As we grow older, wear-and-tear conditions like degenerative disc disease and lumbar arthritis can develop, affecting different areas of the spine.
• Inflammation in the joints connecting the spine and pelvis, known as sacroiliitis, can cause pain in the low back, buttocks and upper legs.
Select Topics of your interest and let us customize your feed.
Common myths and facts about back pain
It is true that back pain can be frustrating and stressful for us. But not everything that you hear about it will come under facts. Here are some myths and facts:
1. Myth: Bed rest is best cure for back pain.
Fact: While rest can be helpful for short-term back pain, prolonged bed rest is not recommended, Dr Mohan tells Health Shots. Gentle movements, staying active and using over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications are often more effective in relieving back pain.
2. Myth: Herniated discs or slipped discs always need surgery.
Fact: In a majority of cases, herniated discs improve on their own with non-surgical treatments such as reduced activity and anti-inflammatory drugs. Surgery is considered only when conservative treatments fail to provide relief or when severe neurological symptoms are present.
3. Myth: Being physically active prevents back pain.
Fact: Exercising and moving around are good for your health. Yes, regular exercise can strengthen your back muscles and improve flexibility, which may reduce the risk of back pain. However, it doesn’t guarantee immunity from back pain, as other factors like overexertion, spinal irregularities, and natural wear and tear can still contribute to back problems.
4. Myth: An injury is always to be blamed for back pain.
Fact: Most back problems develop gradually over time due to repetitive strain or poor posture. While injuries can cause back pain, they are often described as one-time events resulting from accidents, falls or improper lifting techniques.
5. Myth: Seeing a spine specialist means you’ll always have surgery.
Fact: The expert shares that not everyone with back issues requires surgery. Spine specialists explore various non-surgical treatments first and recommend surgery only when all other options have been exhausted.
So, instead of blindly following others, check with a doctor if your back pain refuses to leave your side.