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When Does Acute Back Pain Become Chronic Back Pain?

back pain cork

Back pain is an extremely common condition, with about 9 in 10 adults experiencing it at some point in their life. It may be characterized as a dull, shooting, burning or piercing pain, radiating into the neck, the arms and hands as well as the legs or feet.

Back pain can be typically classified into two main duration-based categories: acute back pain and chronic back pain.

·  Acute Back Pain

Acute pain is the body’s normal response to damage such as physical injuries. It’s the type of pain you experience when you touch a hot stove or when you smash your finger with a hammer: it usually comes on fast and lasts up to 12 weeks. When pain persists, it can be affected by other influences, which can increase the chances of developing chronic pain.

Sub-acute back pain refers to the second half of the acute period (6 to 12 weeks).

·  Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain is commonly defined as a period of pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute pain has been treated.

As pain moves from the acute phase to the chronic stage, factors unrelated to tissue damage and injury – such as anxiety, depression and decline in physical condition due to lack of exercise – become more important. Chronic pain is much less well understood than acute pain and sometimes no clear reason for the development of chronic back pain can be identified.

Neuropathic back pain is a particular, complex, chronic pain state in which no signs of the original injury remain, caused by damage or injury to the nerves. Neuropathic pain commonly produces a burning, cold or stabbing sensation against which traditional pain killers cannot help very much.

Can Back Pain be Inherited?

back pain hereditaryBack pain is a complex medical condition which can be, to some extent, influenced by genetics. Some conditions that cause chronic back pain are hereditary: this means that back pain can indirectly be passed from generation to generation.

A growing number of studies support the existence of a connection between chronic back pain and individual genetic heritage. In 2014, researchers at London King’s College identified a gene linked to age-related spinal discs degeneration, a common cause of lower back pain (view the paper). Research is still underway to identify more specific genes that may trigger the onset of disc problems and be, consequently, linked to back pain.

Other studies have shown that, despite extraordinary differences in occupational and leisure-time physical loading conditions, identical twins are more likely to develop back problems and degenerative disc disease then siblings who are not identical twins.

Risk Factors

There are many other risk factors for developing back pain which are, in most cases, more important than any genetic component:

  • Being over weight
  • Smoking
  • Physical strenuous work
  • Sedentary life style

The same poor life style choices that lead to heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes can cause spinal degeneration. Although the fact that back problems run in our families might put us at slightly higher risk for experiencing episodes of chronic back pain, in reality there’s a lot we can do about the most critical risk factors listed above. The prevention of back problems is something that can often be done by paying attention to regular and moderate exercise, quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight.

Causes of Upper Back Pain

Upper back pain is a phenomenon that affects all age groups.

Your upper back (or thoracic spine) is that portion of your spine between your neck and your abdomen, roughly parallel to your chest. It is the largest portion of the spine, consisting of 12 of the 24 vertebrae.

upper back pain cork chiropractor

For comparison, the neck has 7 vertebrae, while the lower back has 5 vertebrae. All of the thoracic vertebrae articulate with ribs and together protect the thorax.

Upper back pain is not as common as lower back pain or neck pain, because the bones in this area of the back don’t flex or move as much as the bones in your lower back or neck.

Your upper back is there to provide stability. Since it has fewer moving parts, it’s less susceptible to strain, or to degenerative conditions like bulging or herniated discs. Only about 1% of all disc herniations occur in the thoracic spine.

The vast majority of cases of upper back pain are due to one (or both) of the following causes:

  • Muscular Irritation
  • Joint Dysfunction

Because the upper back pain is related to large muscles in the shoulder area, most rehabilitation programs will include a great deal of stretching and strengthening exercises.

·   Muscular IrritationUpper back pain woman

The shoulder girdle attaches by large muscles to the scapula and the back of the thoracic rib cage. These large upper back muscles are prone to developing irritation (myofascial pain) that can be painful and difficult to work out.

Myofascial pain can be caused by repetitive motions used in jobs or hobbies or by stress-related muscle tension. Muscle strains, sports injuries, car accidents or other injuries can all result in pain from muscular irritation.

Often, muscular irritation and upper back pain is due to either de-conditioning (lack of strength) or overuse injuries.

·   Joint Dysfunction

The cause of strain or joint dysfunction is usually stress of one kind or another. Physical stress, such as stooping over your desk for hours at a time, can be an obvious cause. Less evident is the mental or emotional stress that comes from worrying about finances or grieving over a loss. Mental/emotional stress can lead to tensed shoulders and shoulder blades, irritating nerves in the thoracic spine and causing upper back pain.

Just as with pain in the lower back, upper back pain can be the result of a number of different factors. There are certain factors in your life (such as: not enough exercise, overweight, sitting for too long…) which may contribute to your upper back pain, by repeatedly stressing one area of your back.

If you’re suffering from upper back pain, make sure you consult with a chiropractor or physiotherapist before beginning treatment. If you can get the problem diagnosed and treated early, your upper back pain will quickly become a thing of the past.

7 Tips to Improve your Posture at Work

Improper posture can increase feelings of depression, zap your energy and cut off your circulation.

If you work long hours at a desk, it’s important to follow some basic guidelines, both for your posture and for your health.

1. Uncross those legs working posture

Do not cross your legs for long times (this usually leads to temporary rises in blood pressure) and don’t stick them out in front of you.

2. Keep your shoulders straight, squared… and relaxed

Resist the temptation of slouching and leaning forward.

3. Get lumbar support

If you have the option, use a chair that is ergonomically designed for proper support, or try putting a small pillow between your lower back and the chair. For a quicker fix, you can use a folded or rolled-up towel.

4. Keep both your feet flat on the floor

If your legs don’t reach all the way to the ground, consider getting a footrest (or asking for it to your employer).

5. Flex your arms

Adjust your chair and your position so that your arms are flexed. Aim for roughly a 75- to 90-degree angle at the elbows.

6. Keep your head straight

Do not tilt your head up or down and keep your ears in line with your shoulders.

7. Get up and move every so often!

This is extremely important: your body was not designed to sit all day. If you can’t leave often, try to incorporate mini-walks into your daily schedule, getting up every hour or so. Prefer the stairs to the lift/escalator and take breaks to stand up and walk to bathrooms that are farther away.

Luca Cattaneo

Luca Cattaneo

Marketing executive at Douglas Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Clinic.
Luca Cattaneo

Back Pain Myths Exposed

Lower back pain is one of the most common reasons for medical visits and lost work days in the western countries. The degree of pain and duration vary greatly but luckily most of the cases are treated without surgery. Approximately 40% 0f people suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lives.

There are many myths surrounding conditions of the spine and back pain… how can you tell fact from fiction?

Here’s a quick guide to help you.

back pain

1. “Rest is the best way to reduce chronic pain and improve recovery.” – False

Lying down for prolonged periods (more than a few days) can be detrimental to recovery from chronic back pain. Staying active helps strengthen the healing muscles and maintain healthy range of motion. It is important during back pain recovery to slowly rebuild and strengthen the muscles in your back, increasing the range of motion through a program of gentle lower back exercises.

2. “The spine is very delicate and prone to injuries.” – False

The spinal column, with its surrounding muscles, tendons and ligaments  is a strong yet flexible and supportive multipurpose structure. When healthy, the bones of the spine are strong and dense.

3. “If the pain persist you just have to live with it.” – False

Chronic back pain can be treated in many different ways. If the pain starts conditioning your daily activities, see a specialist right away.

4. “If you stay thin and fit you won’t develop back pain.” – False

Although it is true that obesity increases the chances of developing chronic back pain, maintaining a tone figure does not guarantee a pain-free life! Individuals that partake in certain high-risk activities such as golf or tennis are more prone to back pain than those who participate in lower-impact activities such as swimming and Pilates. For example, tone and fit cyclists – spending most of their training time in an hunched-over position – are prone to lower back pain.

5. “An MRI scan is always recommended to find out the exact cause of the pain” – False

An MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan is a diagnostic test typically used when patients are not responding to treatment or for surgical planning. An accurate diagnosis of the cause of back pain requires a combination of medical history and physical exams and may not require this kind of diagnostic tests.

6. “It will only get worse as you age.” – False

The incidence of back pain is actually highest between the ages of 35 and 55. It is true that disc degeneration is a natural part of the aging process, but this is not always accompanied by pain.

7. “One of your parents always had bad back pain, so you are likely to have it.” – False

For the vast majority of conditions related to back and neck pain, there is no genetic predisposition. There are no scientific studies that can substantially back up the theories linking back pain and DNA.

Luca Cattaneo

Luca Cattaneo

Marketing executive at Douglas Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Clinic.
Luca Cattaneo

9 Everyday Objects that may be causing your Back Pain

Abnormal spine movement can go unnoticed, but these objects you may use everyday can significantly contribute to the development of chronic back pain and muscle strains…

Luca Cattaneo

Luca Cattaneo

Marketing executive at Douglas Chiropractic & Physiotherapy Clinic.
Luca Cattaneo