Did you know that 80% of Canadians will suffer from back pain at least once in their lifetime?
If you fall into this category it is important to know that not all back pain is created equally. Back pain can be caused by muscles strains, joint restrictions or disc injuries. If you are currently suffering from nagging back pain here are tips to help you identify what type of back pain, you may be suffering from, and how to ease some of that pain.
The lumbar spine (lower back) is made up of 5 vertebra which are stacked on top of each other and connected to each other by two small joints called facet joints. The facet joints of the spine allow for movement. They allow us to bend, twist and move in all directions. When these joints become sprained there will often be local pain and tenderness at the level of the joint and restricted movement. Facet joint pain can radiate down the leg but rarely past the knee. Pain will often be sharp in nature and is usually limited to one side of the spine.
Joint mobility exercises, like the trunk rotation stretch, release the joints of the spine and can reduce pain. To perform, begin lying on the mat with knees bent. While maintaining the upper back flat on the floor, rotate legs towards the ground until a stretch is felt in the back. Repeat the stretch on the opposite side.
Within your spine are circular cushions called “discs’. Discs provide cushioning within the spine. Long periods of sitting or performing tasks that require a lot of bending and twisting can irritate discs and cause them to become inflamed or strained. The lumbar spine’s lowest two spinal segments, L4-L5 and L5-S1, bear the most weight and are therefore the most prone to disc injury. Back pain stemming from discs can radiate down the leg, all the way into the toes. It is often the cause of sciatica and will usually affect only one one side of the body. Disc pain will often be aggravated by bending forward, or during a straight leg raise.
If you suffer from this type of back pain, you should consult your health care practitioner as treatments like acupuncture and chiropractic care can be beneficial. Icing of the lower back is important to treat inflammation. Also exercises like the “cobra” in yoga, which arches the spine, can reduce discomfort.
At the back of your hips, located within the pelvis, are two joints called the sacroiliac joints. They are located on each side of the tailbone. Occasionally these joints can become stuck and/or inflamed. Sacroiliac joint pain can also refer into the leg, but unlike disc pain it does not typically travel into the foot. Pain will often be aggravated in extension positions, similar to the above- mentioned cobra yoga pose, therefore, stretches that induce flexion can be helpful. Pulling your knees to your chest and stretching the glutes are a good example. Ice placed on the joints can also minimize pain.
There are several muscles that attach to the spine and occasionally these muscles become strained if stretched to far or after repetitive movements. When strained, muscles may feel as if they are in spasm and can affect both sides of the spine. Multiple directions including bending, twisting, or leaning side to side can aggravate muscle pain which will often feel like a dull ache. Doing a yoga class or getting a massage from a registered massage therapist can assist with this type of back pain.
It is important to note, that before you try any of the above recommendations please consult with your medical provider.