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Understanding Low Back Pain

Eight out of ten Canadians will experience low back pain at some time in their lives. In fact, it is the second greatest cause of time loss from work in North America. A recent survey found that a significant number of school age children complain of low back pain.

Injuries, poor posture, heavy lifting and stress are all common causes of back pain. In children, repeated "normal" childhood falls may be a major contributor, combined with prolonged periods of sitting (and slouching) in school and at home in front of the TV. In fact, the majority of us spend most of our time sitting - at home, at work and in the car. This position places the greatest stress on the back.

Not all back pain is the same. It may vary from stiffness to a burning pain in the back, and may involve cramping in the leg or tingling in the toes. The reasons your symptoms may be confusing is that they can arise from different parts of the low back.

Sacroiliac Fixation

This is a common source of back pain in children and adults. The sacroiliac joints are located on either side of the sacrum, or tailbone, where the "dimples" in the low back are, just above the buttocks. The sacroiliac joints are important for proper movement in the hips and back. If they are not moving properly they may cause generalized pain in the back, buttocks, hip, leg, knee or foot. This problem may also cause sciatica - a pain in the buttock which may travel down the back of the leg to the foot. Protective muscle spasms may occur which make it difficult to move or stand straight.

Disc Herniation

The often misnamed "slipped" disc is rare and accounts for less than 10 percent of all low back pain. Discs are the cushioning pads between the spinal bones, or vertebrae. Sometimes, under great strain or repeated trauma, part of the soft center of the disc protrudes through its tough outer casing and puts pressure on spinal nerves. Depending on the severity of symptoms, this may respond to conservative care such as chiropractic manipulation or it may require surgical intervention. Your chiropractor is qualified to assess such conditions.

Facet Joint Disorder

Up to 50 percent of lower back disorders may be of this type. Pairs of facet (spinal) joints, that glide one on top of the other, are located along the spine. These joints allow the spine its supple movement in turning or bending. When these joints are exposed to repeated trauma from sports or work injuries, posture strain or accident, or being too sedentary, low back and/or leg pain can be the result. With time, the spine may become stiff and arthritic as the wear and tear of improper movement cause degenerative changes.

Most lower back pain is caused by mechanical problems of the muscles or joints, and responds quickly and effectively to chiropractic manipulation and supporting therapies. Your chiropractor can also offer specialized advice on postural and work habits, exercise and nutrition for your individual condition.

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