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Back Pain & Spinal Problems

Your spine is a highly complex structure of interconnecting bones, joints, nerves, tendons, muscles and ligaments. The vertebral column – the key feature of the spine – consists of 33 separate bones, known as the vertebrae. Your back is frequently placed under immense strain during daily activity, which means that you may develop back pain or spinal problems at any time of life.

These problems can be exacerbated by poor posture, bad lifting techniques, an excessive body mass index or failing to warm up or cool down properly before or after sports and exercise. Of course, your back pain may be caused by less preventable reasons too; perhaps by conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis, narrowing of the spinal canal (stenosis) or inflammatory diseases like ankylosing spondylitis.

Lower back pain

‘Non-specific’ back pain is the most commonly diagnosed form of back pain and includes soreness, stiffness and tension. Awkward movements such as twisting, lifting something heavy and poor posture can all contribute to lower back pain.

Upper or middle back pain

The centre of your spine upwards to your neck is referred to as the thoracic spine. Pain in this area reaches from the base of your ribcage to your neck and you may experience it as a burning, dull or sharp pain, possibly also affecting your chest, legs and arms. If you experience similar pain in these areas, including weakness, numbness or tingling, or are suffering from a loss of bladder or bowel control, you should seek immediate medical attention.

There are several causes of non-specific back pain, including:

  • Poor posture
  • A body mass index (BMI)  over 30, which registers as obese
  • Awkwardly twisting your back or overstretching
  • Standing, sitting or bending in one position for a long period of time
  • Not paying due care or attention when lifting, carrying or pulling excessive weights
  • Overusing your muscles whilst exercising, also known as repetitive strain injury.

Sometimes the cause of the pain can be attributed to specific damage to parts of your spine, such as:

  • A slipped disc
  • Broken bones (also fractured or cracked bones)
  • Spinal stenosis – a narrowing of the spinal canal, causing nerves to get trapped
  • Osteoarthritis – a degenerative disease that can affect the joints of your spine
  • Osteoporosis – a progressive disease where bones lose density and become prone to fracture
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – an inflammatory condition that can affect tissues and organs, particularly flexible joints
  • Degenerative disc disease – where the intervertebral discs wear down, causing chronic back pain
  • Spondylolisthesis – displacement of the vertebra.

Specialist treatment for back pain and spinal problems

If your back or spine is troubling you, we’re here to help. Our team of skilled orthopaedic and spinal specialists and surgeons will offer you reassurance and support from diagnosis through to treatment and follow-up care. The first step is to screen your back or spine, using state-of-the-art imaging technology such as MRI screening and ultrasound, or the more traditional X-ray.

Following diagnosis, your consultant will recommend what further steps, if any, need to be taken. These could include conservative pain management methods such as oral analgesics or steroid injections to minimally invasive spinal surgery. We also offer corrective surgical procedures for various types of spinal deformities, decompression surgery, disc replacement surgery and kyphoplasty (which repairs painful compression fractures in the spine).

It is sometimes hard to determine the root cause of back pain, but usually it is the result of a strained muscle, tendon or ligament. Painkillers and exercise should help to treat such pain, but if the damage is more serious and affects the structure of the spine, more action may need to be taken.

The advice below will help you to reduce the risk of developing back pain and minimise your risk of injury:

  • Keep your spine straight and maintain a good posture
  • When lifting objects, be sure to take care. Distribute weight evenly
  • Try to maintain a healthy weight for your height to prevent any unnecessary strain being placed on your joints
  • Gentle exercise such as swimming, walking or cycling can help strengthen your stomach and back muscles
  • Make sure you warm up and cool down before and after exercise
  • Smoking can cause tissue damage so smokers should make every effort to quit.

References:

EIDO Healthcare Limited - The operation and treatment information on this website is produced using information from EIDO Healthcare Ltd and is licensed by Aspen Healthcare. 

The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

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