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The area between the shoulders and the buttocks. The back is supported by the spinal column (see spine), which is bound together by ligaments and supported by muscles that also control posture and movement. Disorders that affect the bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and joints in the spine may cause back pain. (See also spine, disorders of.)
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Back pain is usually caused by minor damage to the ligaments and muscles in the back. The lower back is especially vulnerable to these problems because it supports most of the body’s weight and is under continual stress from movements such as bending, twisting, and stretching. Less commonly, lower back pain may result from an underlying disorder such as a prolapsed intervertebral disc (see disc prolapse) in the spine.
In most cases, back pain can be treated with over-the-counter painkillers (see analgesic drugs) such as aspirin and related drugs, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs, or muscle-relaxant drugs. If the pain persists, a heat pad, a wrapped hot-water bottle or, sometimes, an ice-pack, may provide additional relief. Generally, it is advisable to remain as active as the pain permits. People whose pain worsens or is still too severe to allow normal movement after several days should consult a doctor for medical tests.
Investigations for back pain, such as X-rays, CT scanning, or MRI, sometimes reveal abnormalities, such as disc prolapse, that require surgical treatment and can be treated by a microdiscectomy.
Other treatments for back pain include acupuncture, spinal injection, exercise, or spinal manipulation.... BMA Medical Dictionary
Non-speci?c back pain is probably the result of mechanical disorders in the muscles, ligaments and joints of the back: torn muscles, sprained LIGAMENTS, and FIBROSITIS. These disorders are not always easy to diagnose, but mild muscular and ligamentous injuries are usually relieved with symptomatic treatment – warmth, gentle massage, analgesics, etc. Sometimes back pain is caused or worsened by muscle spasms, which may call for the use of antispasmodic drugs. STRESS and DEPRESSION (see MENTAL ILLNESS) can sometimes result in chronic backache and should be considered if no clear physical diagnosis can be made.
If back pain is severe and/or recurrent, possibly radiating around to the abdomen or down the back of a leg (sciatica – see below), or is accompanied by weakness or loss of feeling in the leg(s), it may be caused by a prolapsed intervertebral disc (slipped disc) pressing on a nerve. The patient needs prompt investigation, including MRI. Resting on a ?rm bed or board can relieve the symptoms, but the patient may need a surgical operation to remove the disc and relieve pressure on the affected nerve.
The nucleus pulposus – the soft centre of the intervertebral disc – is at risk of prolapse under the age of 40 through an acquired defect in the ?brous cartilage ring surrounding it. Over 40 this nucleus is ?rmer and ‘slipped disc’ is less likely to occur. Once prolapse has taken place, however, that segment of the back is never quite the same again, as OSTEOARTHRITIS develops in the adjacent facet joints. Sti?ness and pain may develop, sometimes many years later. There may be accompanying pain in the legs: SCIATICA is pain in the line of the sciatic nerve, while its rarer analogue at the front of the leg is cruralgia, following the femoral nerve. Leg pain of this sort may not be true nerve pain but referred from arthritis in the spinal facet joints. Only about 5 per cent of patients with back pain have true sciatica, and spinal surgery is most successful (about 85 per cent) in this group.
When the complaint is of pain alone, surgery is much less successful. Manipulation by physiotherapists, doctors, osteopaths or chiropractors can relieve symptoms; it is important ?rst to make sure that there is not a serious disorder such as a fracture or cancer.
Other local causes of back pain are osteoarthritis of the vertebral joints, ankylosing spondylitis (an in?ammatory condition which can severely deform the spine), cancer (usually secondary cancer deposits spreading from a primary tumour elsewhere), osteomyelitis, osteoporosis, and PAGET’S DISEASE OF BONE. Fractures of the spine – compressed fracture of a vertebra or a break in one of its spinous processes – are painful and potentially dangerous. (See BONE, DISORDERS OF.)
Backache can also be caused by disease elsewhere, such as infection of the kidney or gall-bladder (see LIVER), in?ammation of the PANCREAS, disorders in the UTERUS and PELVIS or osteoarthritis of the HIP. Treatment is e?ected by tackling the underlying cause. Among the many known causes of back pain are:
Mechanical and traumatic causes
Congenital anomalies. Fractures of the spine. Muscular tenderness and ligament strain. Osteoarthritis. Prolapsed intervertebral disc. Spondylosis.
Ankylosing spondylitis. Brucellosis. Osteomyelitis. Paravertebral abscess. Psoriatic arthropathy. Reiter’s syndrome. Spondyloarthropathy. Tuberculosis.
Metastatic disease. Primary benign tumours. Primary malignant tumours.
Metabolic bone disease
Osteomalacia. Osteoporosis. Paget’s disease.
Carcinoma of the pancreas. Ovarian in?ammation and tumours. Pelvic disease. Posterior duodenal ulcer. Prolapse of the womb.
People with backache can obtain advice from www.backcare.org.uk... Medical Dictionary