Low back pain is a common health problem affecting about 80% of the population making it second in prevalence only to the common cold. Although most of us understand that colds are due to a viral infection, back pain is often a mystery to its sufferers.

The majority of back pain patients have not experienced any trauma, accidents or major injuries prior to the onset of their problem and this is where the mystery comes in. In many cases a person goes to sleep feeling perfectly well, gets up and goes to the sink bends over to wash and suddenly feels a sharp stabbing pain making it hard to straighten up. In other cases a person gets up from sitting slouched over the computer for a long period of time feels stiff, takes a few steps and then lightning strikes in the form of acute back pain.

The cause of most back pain is the cumulative affect of improper sitting posture, poor work habits, incorrect lifting, lack of proper exercise and other lifestyle-related activities such as certain sports. All of these factors over time cause stress and imbalances in the spine and eventually pain and disability. This is why people often injure their back by just bending over to pick up a piece of paper as the spine was already compromised and just that simple act was enough to set off the problem. When this occurs, the surrounding back muscles go into spasm to protect the stressed or injured tissues making it hard to bend, walk or get out of bed.

One of the most common injuries to the lower back is what laymen call a “slipped disc”. Since medical science has been using advanced imaging techniques such as the MRI scans, we now know much more about this misunderstood part of our body.

The intervertebral disc is a made of tough intertwining fibers of cartilage and has a soft gelatinous material in the middle. The disc is attached to a vertebral body both above and below and acts like a shock absorber as well as a spacer. It is able to flatten out a bit when it has increased load and then come back to its original shape when there is less load thus performing like the shocks in our car.

Over ones lifetime the cartilage of the disc can develop small fissures or cracks allowing the soft central material to protrude from the inside outward thus changing the shape of the disc. This process can even be seen in teenagers as one of the major factors in the degradation of the disc is prolonged sitting especially in a slouched position a thing that young people nowadays love to do.

If the disc has enough internal damage it can bulge or protrude upon pain sensitive tissues around the spine causing back pain that can be so severe it can even bring a grown man to tears. This is the moment when we know we have a problem with the disc as a lot of the degradation occurs slowly over the years and is not noticeable to most people. If the disc bulges in such a way that it presses upon a spinal nerve a person can also develop symptoms of pain, tingling, numbness and sometimes weakness in their lower extremities. In certain cases this condition is called sciatica. The lower extremity symptoms can either follow shortly after the back pain or sometimes up to a week later. Unfortunately these thigh, leg and foot symptoms will often linger far longer than the back pain and end up being the person’s primary problem.

Disc injuries can often take many months to get over and that is even being under the care of a chiropractor or other practitioner. Conservative treatments include modalities such as traction, manipulation, electric stimulation, and heat and cold therapy. Most people require some form of medication such as anti-inflammatory especially during the initial stages of the problem. For proper management a person must change their lifestyle and do exercises on a daily basis designed to facilitate the healing process. In most cases people can get over disc problems without a surgery.

However there are certain situations that require immediate surgery such as when the disc causes bladder or bowel problems. Other cases that might go to surgery include people who are not responding to conservative treatment, individuals that cannot handle the pain, and people who want a quick fix of the problem. Still with these cases, studies have shown that the eventual outcome is often the same if a person lets the disc heal naturally or gets a surgery.

Overall it is important that we take care of our backs starting at a young age so that we can slow down the inevitable wear and tear of our discs and other structures of our spine. These preventative measures include, proper sitting and using good chairs, stretching and strengthening exercises, proper sports and lifting techniques, and visiting a professional on a regular basis such as chiropractor to check for any early warning signs of back problems.