Back Pain

Updated 01 March 2017

Understanding back pain

Four out of five adults will experience some type of back pain. Here’s a look at the different types of back pain.

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The back's system of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves work together to bear the weight of your body and the loads you carry. Because the spine is central to the body's movements, even small amounts of damage can often cause back pain.

Neck pain

Any pain located from the base of your skull to your shoulders that spreads to your upper back or arms is regarded as neck pain. Tension headaches are usually caused by neck pain. Symptoms of neck pain include stiffness that makes it difficult to turn your head, tightness, or a sharp pain in one spot. 

The muscles in your body usually relax when they’re not being used – but your neck muscles never stop working because they’re permanently tensed to support your head. 

You can avoid neck pain by correcting your posture when sitting – don’t slouch – or sleeping in an awkward position.

Read: Why back pain can be deadly

Upper and middle back pain

Pain located in your thoracic vertebrae (the area between the base of your neck and the bottom of your ribcage) is less common because you don’t use this part of your back as much. 

You may experience aching, stiffness, sharp or burning pain – usually caused by a pinched nerve in your spine. Poor posture can also cause this type of pain.

Read: 4 ways to strengthen your back

Lower back pain

This is the most common type of back pain, and the discomfort is felt between the bottom of your ribcage and the top of your legs. Symptoms include tension, stiffness, pain and soreness. 

You may experience lower back pain if you bend awkwardly, lift heavy objects incorrectly, stand for long periods of time, slouch or spend long periods driving.

Read: Back surgery not always the answer

Buttocks and legs (sciatica)

Caused by irritation or compression of the sciatica nerve, this type of back pain typically radiates from your lower back and moves down lower back and moves down your leg to your calf. The pain level can vary from mild to extremely painful.  

When to see a doctor

It's not a good idea to ignore back pain. Here's when you should schedule an appointment and chat to your doctor about it.

• If the pain follows any trauma or accident 

• It gets worse

• The pain persists for more than four to six weeks

• The pain is worse at night

• If neurological problems are present (numbness, weakness, tingling in your arms or legs)

How to prevent back pain

There are a few things you can do to prevent backache: 

• Lose weight if you're overweight.

• Get regular exercise, such as walking or swimming.

• Learn to maintain the correct posture.

• Take care when lifting or moving things.

Infographic on how to sit properly and avoid back

Sources: 
www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Back-pain-guide.aspx
www.spine-health.com/conditions/neck-pain/chronic-neck-pain-what-condition-causing-my-neck-pain
www.spine-health.com/conditions/lower-back-pain/should-i-see-a-doctor-back-pain

Read more:

5 common reasons why you may have a bad back

10 ways to fix your back pain


 

Ask the Expert

Backache expert

Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

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