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Back Pain

Back pain is by no means rare - four out of five people will experience some form of it during their lifetimes. Back-related illness is the leading cause of work-related disability and the fifth-leading cause for doctor visits. Pain, which can range from mild to excruciating, may last only a few hours or continue unabated for a lifetime.

Although back pain can occur at any point along the spinal column, most cases occur in the lower third of the spine. The lower back is the workhorse of the spine, bearing more weight and stress than any other portion of the back. An episode of back pain can appear suddenly and for no apparent reason.

Physicians have, however, identified a number of risk factors. Muscle weakness and poor lifting techniques are among those factors that can be rectified by strength exercise, better posture and lifting techniques. Other addressable factors include obesity, smoking and poor nutrition.

Some factors, however, are not as easily preventable. The process of aging leads to a normal amount of wear and tear on the body - the strength and elasticity of youth wanes in later years. Osteoporosis, an age-related disease that causes bone loss, also contributes to back pain in older adults, especially women. Other medical conditions like arthritis can ignite back pain, as can some forms of traumatic injury.

Common Treatments:

Most cases of back pain resolve fairly quickly with a little bed rest and over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen. For more severe cases, physicians may also prescribe muscle relaxers or prescription-based NSAIDs.

Doctors also recommend a number of lifestyle changes to reduce future occurrence of back pain, like strength exercises (especially for back and abdominal muscles), proper nutrition and smoking abstinence. They also advise better posture, avoidance of sitting for long periods, and taking care when moving or lifting.

For more serious or chronic experiences of back pain, physicians usually turn to stronger medications, surgery or pain management techniques.

One medication technique involves epidural injections of cortisone to lessen irritation of affected nerves, or sometimes the enzyme chymopapain, which dissolves disc tissue to alleviate nerve pressure. Injections like these are usually administered over an extended period.

In cases where portions of a spinal disk may have broken away and now press on a nerve, surgeons may perform a procedure called a laminectomy that removes portions of vertebrae. This is a serious surgery that requires a hospital stay.

Pain management treatments have increased options for chronic back pain patients in recent years. One example is transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS). A physical therapist applies electrodes to the skin near the region of pain. A low-level current is passed through the electrodes to block nerve pain signals to the brain.
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