Four out of five adults will experience significant back pain sometime during their life. Work-related back injuries are the nation's number-one occupational hazard and after the common cold, back pain is the most frequent problem that brings people to a doctor's office.
These figures are not surprising, given the amount of stress that is placed on the back.
The back is the main supporting structure of the entire body. Along with muscles and joints, it allows one to move, twist, bend, and bear weight. But, the back is also a finely balanced structure that can be easily injured if not cared for properly.
Knowing the basics of back care can make the difference between a healthy back and an aching one.
The back, or spinal column, is composed of 24 movable bones called vertebrae. Between each vertebra is a cushion-like pad called a disc, which absorbs shock. These vertebrae and disks are supported by ligaments and muscles, which keep the back properly aligned. When any of these various parts become diseased, injured, or deconditioned, back problems and pain are almost certain to follow.
The back is balanced when your cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), and lumbar (low-back) curves are all properly aligned. Proper alignment occurs when ears, shoulders, and hips are "stacked" in a straight line. A healthy back is also protected and supported by flexible discs and well-conditioned muscles.
A number of physical conditions such as curvature of the spine (scoliosis), arthritis, herniated (ruptured) discs, and sprains and strains can cause back pain.
However, the majority of backaches are due to poor posture, weak supporting muscles, and faulty body mechanics. Improper posture places excess stress on the spinal column, especially for those who spend a lot of time sitting or lifting. Over time, poor posture can lead to sudden or recurrent back pain. Weak and deconditioned muscles contribute to and are often responsible for poor posture since they cannot adequately support the spinal column. Improper body mechanics, such as lifting incorrectly, places increased stress on the back, which can result in back pain.
By using proper posture when sitting, standing, reclining, lifting and moving, and by exercising the muscles that support the back to keep them strong and flexible, the most common causes of back pain are preventable. The result is freedom from back pain, and a stronger, healthier back.