Common back problems: information, diagnosis and treatments

Our back forms the most important support that helps us keep an upright posture and absorb the stress and shock that the body undergoes during various activities. It is therefore not uncommon for injuries to occur that can cause back pain. However, trauma is not the only cause and a number of other disease processes can cause back problems as well.

The back is composed of the vertebral bones along with the associated muscles around it. Back problems can occur anywhere along the spine and in this article we shall review them briefly.

1. Whiplash injury

Whiplash injury refers to a hyperextension injury that occurs when an individual is hit or experiences sudden trauma on the back of the neck. Patients can experience pain on movement of the neck that can be rather distressing. Whiplash injuries are common in road traffic accidents and unfortunately do not have any specific treatment other than painkillers.

2. Arthritis

Arthritis is usually an age-related phenomenon that involves the generation of the vertebral bones and the structures in between such as cartilage and ligaments. As a result, patients experience symptoms when they move the affected area in different directions. Over time it can become a lot more severe to a point where the individual's ability to perform their daily activities is compromised.

Arthritis can be due to a number of different causes of the common ones are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

3. Slipped disc

Intervertebral discs are soft cartilaginous structures that lie in between the vertebra. They act as shock absorbers during different movements of the spine. Age-related degeneration can cause protrusion of the material within the intervertebral discs outside the space in which it lies. This can compress the nerve fibres within the vertebral canal and cause pain and other symptoms.

5. Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a clinical condition characterised by arthritis of the spine and its surrounding structures. The primary pathology underlying this illness is inflammation particularly at the junction of the sacrum bone with the hip bone. It is believed to have a genetic origin and as such does not have any specific cure.

6. Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is an age-related condition that is common in women following menopause. It is characterised by thinning of the bones making them susceptible to fractures from minimal trauma. Severe osteoporosis can cause a great degree of pain as the vertebral bodies can collapse and compress upon the nerve fibres that lie within it.

The above lists just a few of the common back problems. The general principles of management vary between each of them but commonly include the use of painkillers to manage inflammation and either rest of exercise depending upon the type of back problems.

The treatment options that are commonly offered to patients with back pain include physical therapy which involves a series of exercises that can allow for smoother movements and improve mobility of the patient. Most back problems often resolve with physical therapy.

Medical treatments such as steroid injections are sometimes useful. They help combat inflammation and can effectively treat back pain though this may be short lived.

In advanced cases of back problems, surgery may be offered to the patient. Surgical procedures can include spinal fusion, total vertebral replacement and microsurgery.

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