The back is one of the most important structures of the body. It helps hold us in an upright posture and supports our head and our torso.
The back, or more specifically the spine, is involved in constant movement. It helps us bend and stand up, lift things, hold heavy weights and aids in twisting our body sideways. Because the spine is always in motion in one way or the other, its wear and tear may also occur at an accelerated pace, more so than the rest of the body. This is the reason why the majority of people complain of lower back pain; almost everyone has experienced it in their lifetime at least once.
Back pain can occur due to a lot of underlying reasons. On the other hand, there are cases when back pain has no specific cause. But what does it mean when we say that the back pain is non-specific?
Non-Specific Lower back Pain
As defined and published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) in the Low Back Pain Guidelines: “Non-specific low back pain is tension, soreness and/or stiffness in the lower back region for which it is not possible to identify a specific cause of the pain. Several structures in the back, including the joints, discs and connective tissues, may contribute to symptoms”.
In other words, non-specific back pain is caused by something that cannot be traced back to its roots. Or we can say that it does not occur as a result of some specific, diagnosable disease. Back muscle strain due to an athletic injury can be one example of a non-specific pain.
This type of pain is usually considered mechanical, which occurs when the spine moves. It can also result due to wear and tear of the spine or muscle imbalance.
On the other hand, an example of back pain that has a specific cause can be that of cauda equina syndrome, or inflammatory medical conditions (such as ankylosing spondylitis), or even specific LBP (lower back pain).
Types of non-specific back pain
Non-specific low back pain is usually categorized into acute, subacute, and chronic types (based in the duration of the pain). Acute pain means that the pain lasts for less than 6 weeks. Subacute pain lasts between 6 to 12 weeks. Chronic lasts for more than 12 weeks.
Common causes of non-specific lower back pain
As it has been mentioned already, non-specific back pain occurs without any specific identifiable underlying disease. It can be caused by:
- Traumatic injury
- Strain or sprain in the lumbar spine
- Postural strain
- Spinal compression
Characteristics of the pain - How to identify it?
Some important features of non-specific lower back pain are as follows:
- The cause of the problem cannot be explained by a specific pathology.
- People from all ages can be affected.
- Management of this type of pain is limited and symptomatic.
- Frequent relapses occur.
- Most episodes of pain are self-limiting and are not related to a serious disease.
- Obesity and being over-weight are part of the risk factors that can usually be related to nospecific low back pain.
Diagnosis and treatment
Non-specific back pain is usually not a cause for concern and in many cases can go away on its own. As previously stated, a diagnosis of non-specific back pain is given when there no direct spinal disorder has been found to cause the pain.
However, that is not to say that there isn’t a specific reason as to why the pain occurs in the first place.
To treat non-specific back and neck pain, it is advised to start with minimally invasive approaches.
Conservative treatments for this type of back pain usually work quite well in relieving the pain and other possible symptoms. Surgery is rarely performed, as non-specific pain is rarely related to a serious illness and severe back pain tends to occur in a small number of cases.
However, anti inflammatory medications are sometimes used to relieve such back pain issues.
There is a variety of approaches that one can take in order to address this type of pain. Some of the more common ones have been detailed below:
1. Home Remedies
Home remedies are a good starting point for people who suffer from non-specific back pain.
One example of home remedies includes that of using hot and/or cold fomentation. Using heat/ cold therapy to relieve back pain at home can be quite accessible for a large number of people.
In order to get the best results, most experts suggest that using these alternatively can be most effective for the following reasons. Applying ice packs, or ice wrapped in a towel to the problem area can help reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain.
On the other hand, using heating pads, or taking a hot shower are also very helpful as they aid in relaxing the muscles.
2. Non-Invasive Spinal Decompression
Because a large number of back pains are caused either directly by spinal compression or they are linked to it, it is no surprise that the reverse process, that of decompression, can rid one of the pain.
When a person’s spine becomes compressed, it is implied that the vertebrae (cylindrical bones that make up the spine) are squashed, causing the spine to become shorter. When the spine is shorter, all of the other structures that were linked to it may be affected in one way or another. Most commonly, spinal compression can lead to nerve root compression. This in turn, can lead to pain.
In order to relieve pain that has been caused by spinal compression, restoring the natural space between the vertebrae, as well as the original length of one’s spine, would be the best course of action.
To achieve this result, it is best to use a spinal decompression device, such as the Backrack, not only to get long-term pain relief, but also to prevent the pain from returning in the future.
Non-Invasive Spinal Decompression
3. Exercise and Physical Therapy
Another approach that shows good results with back pain reduction is that of exercising. It is recommended that people with back pain stay active in order to maintain the strength of their muscles, which has to be done by exercising regularly.
If you want an exercise programme to be tailored according to your needs, you might want to consider physical therapy. Physical therapy includes a variety of exercises that work on re-mobilising the spine, and also on strengthening weak muscles. Typical exercises include aerobic activity, movement and muscle strengthening exercises, postural control as well as stretching.
4. Improving Posture
In most cases, poor posture results in a constant back pain. Whether it’s that crooked chair in your workplace, or maybe it’s those uncomfortable car seats that are putting pressure on the spine, having a bad posture can undoubtedly cause harm to your spine.
It could also be due to the quality of your mattress and pillow that aren’t supporting your spine at night as they should. Your sleeping posture can thus be affected, and lead to back and/or neck pain.
Prolonged standing/sitting can also cause long term back pain. Consider taking short breaks in between or perform stretches at work if you need to sit at the desk for long hours.
Slouching, a bad habit that many of us are guilty of, can occur whether we are standing or sitting. The best way to address it is to be mindful of our posture and try to correct a slouching spine when we notice it.
Additionally, an oftentimes overlooked cause of poor posture is that of weak core muscles. When the muscles that are responsible for holding our spine upright are not strong enough to support the weight of our torso, an incorrect posture may form as a result. On top of that, having weak core muscles may also increase the risk of suffering from muscle strains.
Consider all these reasons and observe if any of them could be the main culprit behind the pain that you experience.
Simple improvements in these areas can help alleviate the pain that might persist even with medications. One such example is to use a lumbar support belt to massage and decompress your spine at the same time.
5. Spinal Manipulation/ Manual therapy
Spinal manipulation (movement at the limit of joint range), spinal mobilization (joint movement within the normal range of motion of the joint) and massage (manual manipulation of soft tissues) therapies are important and effective in managing back pain.
6. Reduce Weight
If you are overweight, losing weight is a must if you want to live without back pain. Any extra weight on your body puts additional stress on the spine, and also alters one’s normal posture. As a result the spine has to work harder, which may potentially increase the risk of muscle strain as well as spinal compression. A higher body weight may also accelerate the development and increase in severity of spinal issues.
In short, reducing weight can help reduce back pain, and also improve overall health and fitness levels.
7. Healthy Lifestyle
Adopt a healthy lifestyle by quitting smoking, reducing the amount of alcohol consumption, and eating nutritious and a well-balanced diet.
Smoking can have negative effects not only on the health of your lungs, but also on the health of your bones, including those that make up your spine.
It should also go without saying that by consuming a healthy diet and providing our bodies the adequate nutrients can help keep spinal issues away. This includes drinking sufficient water and staying hydrated.
If dietary requirements cannot be met through alimentation, taking vitamins to fulfil any deficiencies may be beneficial in keeping back pain away.
Author: Spinal Backrack