Acute back pain is one of the most commonly prevalent and commonly ignored daily life health problems in working adults. The increasing incidence of acute back pain in adults in India can be attributed in part to a sedentary lifestyle and in part to long working hours in bad postures.
The 21st century brought with it a great change in the way we work. Work has become complicated, more mentally exerting, involving little or no physical exertion.
Typically, back pain is classified into acute (<12 weeks) and chronic (>12 weeks) based on the duration of the pain. It is quite essential to differentiate acute and chronic back pain as their causes, treatments and response to treatment varies hugely.
Most cases of acute back pain are caused by muscle spasms, which by itself is not a serious problem. However, acute back pain may be an early sign to a range of less common but more serious disorders and those should be ruled out.
Muscle Sprains And Spasms
Muscle sprains or spasms are the most common causes of acute back pain in adults. Usually caused either by prolonged inactivity in an abnormal posture like falling asleep in car/buses in a sitting posture, or falling asleep on the couch or bean bags. Back pain may also start after sudden over activity with little previous exposure to exercise. The back pain associated with muscle spasms is usually dull in nature but can be very sharp when moved in certain directions and is never associated with leg pains.
People often believe that complete bed rest cures back ache; but on the contrary, resuming normal activity (excluding strenuous exercise) often improves acute back pain caused by muscle spasms
Less Common But More Serious Causes
Rarely, acute back pain can be an early sign of certain serious disorders like fractures, infections of the bone, arthritis, spinal degenerative disorders (commonly referred to as spinal disc problems), and certain neurological disorders. The following symptoms, if associated with back pain, should serve as warnings and prompt patients to seek medical attention.
- Leg pain (one side or both legs)
- Visible swelling with or without redness
- Associated fever
- Unexplained weight loss
- Change in sensation in legs
- Urinary disturbances
These conditions usually require further evaluation by diagnostic tests and detailed examination.
More than 80 per cent of acute back pain cases spontaneously regress over a period of one week, when aided by pain relieving drugs. The remaining cases, unless associated with a serious underlying cause, regress over the next six weeks. A few cases may need a short course of therapy with pain relievers and skeletal muscle relaxants, but their use is limited during day time due to sedating side effects.
People often believe that complete bed rest cures back ache; but on the contrary, resuming normal activity (excluding strenuous exercise) often improves acute back pain caused by muscle spasms. So, it is recommended that people get back to routine activities as soon as possible except in cases of heavy work.
A minor proportion of back pain cases resolve slowly over a period of four weeks, and may need treatment for a longer period. Mild exercise regimens like yoga and stretching has been found to be useful, but only under supervision. Topical pain relieving ointments and home remedies too help to a certain extent.
Back Pain Prevention
Prevention is always better than cure! Muscle spasms are less likely to happen in people who exercise regularly. This is because their muscles are in a toned state and toned muscles are less prone to spasms and also heal faster from injuries. Proper warm up before any workout (especially if there has been a long gap between workouts) and cool down sessions after workouts are very essential.
Proper warm up prepares the muscles for workouts and minimises the chances of having a muscle sprain. Ergonomic planning of the work desk, to minimise work related muscle issues and posture management helps in reducing the risk of developing back pain. Prompt management of any episode of acute back pain, and seeking medical intervention in case of complications is of prime importance in reducing recurrences.