Back injuries are sustained in a myriad of ways and some people are more likely to develop back pain and injury than others are. Some people incur back injuries from doing seemingly nothing; a simple twist or turn the wrong way in bed, for example, could cause a vertebra to go out of alignment. Others incur injury at home or on the job, while others sustain back injuries from traumatic events such as a vehicular accident. Back injuries can be sustained on any number of structures in the spine. Although lower back injuries are the most prevalent, many people have sustained injuries to the thoracic (middle spine) or cervical (neck) portions of their spinal cord. Injuries can occur to the vertebrae, discs, nerves, joints, muscles, and other soft tissues. Once an injury has been incurred, other parts of the body, from the toes to the head, also can be affected. Nationally, back injuries cost U.S. businesses approximately $30 billion per year, at an estimated average cost per claim of $24,000. If surgery is involved, the cost for claims increases significantly to $40,000 per injury or higher. One recent back injury involving surgery totaled $240,000.Health care industry workers sustain nearly five times more back injuries than any other type of worker and are among 6 of the top 10 professions at greatest risk for back injury, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Eighty percent of Americans experience one form of back pain or another during the course of their lives. More men over the age of 45 are disabled by back pain than any other condition. It is the third most common reason for surgeries. Because of this, people complaining of back pain cannot be easily diagnosed. This is because the spine is such an incredibly complex structure of bones, muscles, nerves, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Injury or disease affecting any one or more of these structures can often trigger an episode of pain. Lower back pain is often caused by a muscle strain. The erector spine, or large paired muscles in the lower back that help keep your spine erect, can become inflamed and spasm. In more serious cases, the pain may be caused by a degenerative condition, such as arthritis, disc disease, or disc herniation. A degenerative disc condition can sometimes cause a chain reaction of other events in your spine. When a disc is not in its proper place, or is malformed from disease or some other condition, it can allow additional undue pressure on other healthy structures, such as neighboring discs, nerves, muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Rest, ice or heat therapy, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicine, such as aspirin, are often the first course of treatment for mild lower back pain. This allows your muscles to return to their normal position and begin to heal. Because the thoracic spine is the sturdiest part of the spine, it is less prone to injury. That said upper back pain, while less common than lower back pain, is often caused by irritation of the muscles or a problem with a joint. Other less common causes of upper back pain include herniated or degenerative discs. However, rest for a sore back should be kept to no more than two weeks. Otherwise, the muscles in the lower back begin to atrophy and can become significantly weak, leaving you open to further undue pain and injury.
Your cervical spine connects your brain stem to your spinal cord. It is an area rich in blood vessels and other soft tissue, such as ligament and tendons. Neck pain is slightly less common than back pain, but no less important or treatable.
Common causes of neck pain include, but are not limited to:
The largest nerve in the human body may be responsible for one of the most common causes of leg pain. The sciatic nerve connects the spinal cord with the leg and foot muscles, and runs down both sides of the lumbar spine, through the buttock and back of the thigh, and down to the foot.
Many kinds of leg pain can be traced to problems with the sciatic nerve. Sciatica pain occurs when one or more of the spinal nerves become compressed. A disc herniation is often the culprit. Other causes include spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, and arthritis.
While the pain typically travels down, or radiates, along the sciatic nerve, it is often felt in the lower buttocks, the back of the leg, and even the bottom of the foot. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and/or a burning or prickling sensation.
It is very important that you seek medical attention if you experience these kinds of symptoms, because long-term compression of the sciatic nerve can cause permanent damage. In addition, untreated sciatica nerve damage can cause such problems as loss of bladder and bowel control.
A sprain of the muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the neck area usually causes acute neck pain. Vehicular accidents, repeated carrying of heavy items (such as luggage), or awkward sleeping positions are often the culprits. Most minor ligament or tendon injuries in the neck will subside with proper care, including rest, ice or heat application, and rehabilitation such as chiropractic care and physical therapy.
One common symptom of chronic neck pain is an ache that radiates down the arm, sometimes into the hands and fingers, accompanied by numbness or tingling. Foraminal stenosis, a condition caused by degenerative changes in the neck joints, involves a herniated disc or a pinched nerve. This in turn causes chronic neck pain.
A sudden, violent jolt in one direction and then another can create a whip-like movement that injures, strains or sprains neck ligaments, tendons and muscles. Whiplash brings on pain, headaches, and stiffness. It is most common in people involved in motor vehicle accidents, but can also occur from falls, sports injuries, work injuries, and other incidents. Initial Chiropractic treatments may include ice and/or heat, electrical stimulation and/or ultrasound, followed by an active-care program of stretching and spinal manipulation.
Though there is no such thing as a “safe” sport, highly competitive sports, such as football, weightlifting, gymnastics, and wrestling, pose particularly higher risks of injuries, especially among children. According to experts, as much as 20 percent of all sports-related injuries involve the lower back or neck. Running and weightlifting, and other sports that involve repetitive impact, expose children to a high risk for lumbar (lower back) injuries. Contact sports, such as soccer and football, expose the cervical spine, or neck, to injury. More than one-third of all high school football players sustain some type of injury. Soccer participants are easy candidates for mild to severe head traumas, neck injuries, cervical spine damage, headache, neck pain, dizziness, irritability, and insomnia.
Heading the ball, the act of using the head to re-direct the soccer ball, has been linked with cervical injuries in children and adults. The trampoline and gymnastics also present significant risks for spinal cord injuries from unexpected and brute falls or contact with hard surfaces.