Mechanics of the spine
Most instances of low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning there is some sort of disruption in the way the components of the back fit together and move. The spine consists of a column of bones (vertebrae) that are held together by muscles, tendons (that attach the muscles to the spinal column) and ligaments (bands of tissue holding the vertebrae in place), as well as intervertebral disks situated between the vertebrae that act as shock absorbers to cushion the bones during movement of the body. Thirty-one pairs of nerves are rooted to the spinal cord and their function is to control body movements and transmits signals between the body and the brain.
Back pain can originate from a problem in any of these components of the spine. Most back pain occurs in the lower back where the five lowest vertebrae (L1 – L5) are situated, as this area supports much of the weight of the upper body.
Causes of back pain
Generally speaking, less severe causes of low back pain can be effectively treated by home remedies, whilst back pain caused by trauma to the area would usually require medical attention.
The most frequent causes of back pain is strain (tears in tendons or muscle), or sprain (overstretching or tearing of ligaments) that are caused by many possible reasons, such as overuse, unfamiliar movement, twisting, improper lifting of heavy objects, poor posture, lack of regular exercise, or a less serious accident.
Age is a contributing factor, as the spine degenerates due to normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints, disks and bones of the spine as people get older.
The intervertebral disks tend to wear out or can become fragmented, or become compressed and bulge outward or rupture, losing their cushioning ability. A disk can also move outside the space between the vertebrae and compress a nerve.
Home treatment for lower back pain
Home treatment can be considered as the first treatment option, depending on the cause of the back pain and the severity. It is not suitable for severe or serious causes of back pain due for example to a major injury or fracture, or infection or cancer in the area.
Most lower back pain is acute (short term) and can last from a few days to a few weeks. It responds well to self-care, while chronic back pain lasts for 12 weeks or longer and would require medical treatment.
Studies have shown that prolonged bed rest is actually detrimental to back pain. It is best to stay active so the muscles do not become stiff, but taking it easy for a couple of days after the initial injury before slowly increasing activity.
Immediately after a back injury it is best to apply ice packs to the area in order to numb the area and prevent or reduce swelling, and reduce inflammation.
Heat, such as a hot water bottle or heat pads, can be applied about 48 hours later, in order to sooth and relax aching muscles. It also helps the healing process by increasing blood flow in the area.
Physical activity assists with the healing process. Stretching exercises and continuing with normal daily activities should start as soon as possible, while avoiding movements that aggravate pain. Gradually introduce an exercise routine to help build strong, flexible muscles. A good exercise routine should include aerobic activity, strength training and flexibility exercises.
Low back pain fact sheet. Published December 2014. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (USA). (www.ninds.nih.gov)
Here’s something completely different for low back pain. Published 6 July 2017. Harvard Medical School. (www.health.harvard.edu)
Home remedies for low back pain. Published February 2017. Harvard Medical School. (www.health.harvard.edu)
Back pain: Symptom. Published 23 June 2015. Mayo Clinic (USA) (www.mayoclinic.com)