Back At It: Understanding Back Pain

The other morning, in the brief time that I had before getting to work, I stumbled across an old episode of Sex and the City. An HBO favorite from the days of yore, it was an episode I was both familiar with and enjoyed. Admittedly, the story line that stuck with me was pretty cliché, and I’m sure you’ll agree. The story of the pretty girl stuck on the bathroom floor, naked and writhing in pain, waiting for her handsome savior to come and rescue her. Now I’m going to safely assume that we all have similar stories to tell. In my case I was the zany character struggling on the bedroom floor, and it was not a handsome man coming to collect, rather my mother, but I digress.

My point is that back pain; severe, debilitating, back pain is something that we have all at one point or another come across. In fact, it is so common that research estimates that four out of five people will suffer from some sort of back injury in their lifetime. In Phoenix, Arizona alone, researchers have estimated that roughly 1.6% of the population has had some sort of back issue, with a whopping 47.2% of that estimate belonging to the elderly. The other portion is made up of work related injuries and sport related injuries (typically belonging to those of young adults and adolescents) that have required some sort of medical attention.

With the stats not totally in our favor, it’s not a complete sentencing, and there’s still room for you to make it through scotch free without back pain. And while we typically associate back pain with painful twists and turns (such as what happens when working out and engaging in sports) it can happen from the simplest of acts (I, for example, threw mine out brushing my teeth). Because a back injury can happen from the most mundane of exercises, it is important to educate yourself as much as possible about back pain and what it means.

  • Upper Back Pain: The telltale signs that your pain is stemming from your upper back is by experiencing soreness or discomfort in the shoulder blades or rib cages. Typical upper back pain is caused by damage or irritation to the trapezius muscle, and is spurred by joint back pain, injury, or infection.
  • Middle Back Pain: Thoracic pain, or pain in the middle of the back, will typically present itself as pain along the middle of the spine and in the surrounding muscles (the Latissimus dorsi muscle and Thoracolumbar surround the mid spinal region). Poor posture, disease, arthritis, muscle strain, and trauma are all contributing factors for mid back pain, along with obesity.
  • Lower Back Pain: The most usual type of back pain, and most commonly associated with athletes, pain in the lumbar (lower back) region is usually brought on by repetitive motion, pressure, and repeated aggravation to the area. Pain surrounding the area that might signify a back problem may present itself in the pelvic region and sacrum, and often times affects the sciatica sending pain down your leg.

While a lifetime with no back pain cannot be guaranteed, there are certainly steps you can take to give relief to your precious spine. Keeping up with exercise and managing your weight will keep your back strong and healthy, as well as maintaining proper posture. Additionally, taking care to use ergonomic chairs in the office will help relieve your back while sitting at your desk day in and day out. Finally, properly stretching in the morning, prior to starting your day, can help limit the effects that the environment can have on your back and keep you ache-free for years to come.