‘ Back’ to health


By Dr. Virginia Nsitem

Have you ever woken up from bed with a sore back? Do you have difficulty getting up from your bed or from your chair? Do you find it hard to bend to put on your socks or shoes? Do you experience back pain when straining, sneezing or coughing? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. This column will discuss common causes of low back pain and how to relieve your pain and discomfort.

How the low back is formed:

The low back is made up of 5 spinal bones, called vertebra. The bones are separated by spongy shock absorbers called discs. The spinal bones are connected to one another by ligaments, tendons, and muscles. The low back provides flexibility and strength to the body, and the spine protects the spinal cord.

Some causes of low back pain:

  1. “Wear and Tear”: As we age, our spine goes through various changes, and the joints and discs in the spine degenerate. We often use terms like osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease to describe the “wear and tear” on the spinal bones and discs.
  2. Accidents and injuries: Injuries to the spinal bones and discs in the low back are one of the most common causes of low back pain. Disc injuries are thought to be more problematic than muscle or ligament sprains and strains. One traumatic event, or repetitive stress on the discs can lead to injury of the disc and surrounding tissues and nerves.
  3. Poor posture and body mechanics: Bending down to lift something heavy, twisting the back to push or pull an object, sitting incorrectly over time, or repetitive stress on the back can cause muscle and ligament injuries.

Symptoms of back pain:

Symptoms of back pain from arthritis and degenerative disc includes:

  • Low back and buttock pain
  • Pain that refers into the thighs and legs
  • Pain with sitting or getting up from a seated position
  • Pain that is worse in the morning

Symptoms of back pain from disc injuries include:

  • Low back and buttock pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain with coughing and sneezing
  • Pain that radiates down the leg to the foot
  • Numbness, tingling, or burning sensation in the leg

Symptoms of back pain from muscle and ligament sprains and strains include:

  • Low back muscle pain
  • Pain with bending forward
  • Muscle spasms
  • Tightness and stiffness in the low back

Is there a cure for back pain?

Chiropractors specialize in diagnosing, treating, and rehabilitating injuries of the muscles, joints and nerves.  The first step to relieving your low back pain is understanding the cause of the problem. Your chiropractor or health care provider can provide you with a diagnosis after conducting an examination, and reviewing possible x-rays, CT scans, MRI studies, or other investigations. Your rehabilitation program may vary, depending on your diagnosis. Your chiropractor or health care provider can also identify serious symptoms (such as loss of bladder and bowel function) that may require urgent attention.

  1. Chiropractic techniques: Manual therapies are used to improve tightness of the muscles and ligaments, and movement of the joints. Laser therapy is a useful tool to reduce pain and allow the patient to start the exercise portion of the rehabilitation. Cold therapy (ice) can be helpful in the initial stages of inflammation to reduce the pain and swelling. Traction techniques (stretching the back with a special table) can also help relieve the pain of disc and joint injuries.
  2. Stretching: Stretching is important to increase the flexibility of tight muscles in the low back, pelvis, and legs. Stretching exercises help the mobility of the joints in the spine, improve the circulation and help relax the muscles. There are different stretching techniques, and your chiropractor can help design a proper stretching program for your condition. Aqua stretching in a swimming pool, yoga, Pilates, and tai chi can also be beneficial for some low back injuries.
  3. Strengthening: Strengthening exercises are an important aspect of low back rehabilitation. There are various strengthening techniques, and they can be done with or without weights or exercises bands. Some studies have shown that your risk of having a back or work injury is reduced with strength training. In addition to helping with low back pain, strengthening exercises can lower your risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
  4. Back Programs: There are specialized back exercise programs that your chiropractor can teach you, such as Core strengthening (abdominal exercises) and the McKenzie exercise program (for disc injuries), that can help relieve back pain. Education on proper posture techniques at work, at rest, with lifting, sleeping, and rising from the bed or chair are important parts of the rehabilitation program, and can help reduce further injury to the low back.
  5. Daily activities: In addition to stretching and exercising, incorporating other activities such as walking or swimming for overall health and wellness.
  6. Massage therapy and Acupuncture: Studies have shown that these techniques are helpful for providing a pain-relieving effect throughout the body, an anti-inflammatory effect, and a general sense of improved well-being.

Stop the pain … before it stops you!

(Dr. Virginia Nsitem is a chiropractor specializing in laser therapy for muscle, joint, and nerve injuries and is a Fellow of the Royal College of Chiropractic Sports Sciences in Canada. She may be reached at (905) 275-4993, or by email at totalhealth@bellnet.ca )