Common back injuries include strains and sprains, fractured vertebrae and herniated disks. These can occur as a result of sports injuries, working in the garden, or around the house, or as a trauma due to an accident. Back injuries can be quite painful and can restrict a personís everyday mobility.
The human backbone (spine) extends from the skull to the pelvis and is made up of a neatly stacked column of 33 bones (vertebrae) and tissues. A band of cartilage, serving as a shock absorber, is found between each vertebrae which form a protection around the spinal cord. The vertebrae may be classified as follows:
► Cervical vertebrae-forming the upper part of the spine, seven in number
► Thoracic vertebrae-found between the neck and the lower back, twelve in number
► Lumbar vertebrae-located in the lower back between the chest and hips; contains five of the largest and strongest vertebrae
Sacrum and coccyx-group of bones fused and located at the base of the spine
Types of Back Injuries
There are two types of back injuries - spondylolisthesis and cervical radiculopathy. Both are specific conditions with its own set of causes, symptoms and treatments.
► Spondylolisthesis occurs when a vertebra, mostly from the base of the spine, slips from its position. It can occur as a result of Spondylolysis too, which is a defect in one or both of wing-shaped parts of a vertebra. Symptoms include pain in the lower back and buttocks that radiates down to legs, and overall muscular weakness.
► Cervical Radiculopathy- Cervical radiculopathy is a condition that results from impaired nerve function and occurs when the nerve roots, in the proximity of the cervical vertebrae, are compressed. The pressure is brought on by arthritis, degenerative changes in the bone or a damage in the surrounding bones. Any damage to these nerve roots can give rise to pain, loss of sensation in the regions of the neck, shoulders and arms.
Diagnosis & Treatment of Back Injuries
If the back pain is significant, consult an osteopath.
The root cause of pain can be diagnosed with the help of a simple X-ray. CT scans or MRI scans are usually taken before planning a surgery.
The mainstay of Spondylolisthesis treatment is physical therapy, to strengthen abdominal and back muscles.
Cervical radiculopathy on the other hand is treated with a combination of pain killers and physical exercises. The pain medications used are acetaminophen (paracetamol), ibuprofen, ketoprofen and naproxen. Steroids may also be given either orally or injected epidurally. Physical therapy includes traction and other mobilization exercises.
Surgery is usually the last option and is usually considered when the compression on the nerve is significantly high and results in motor weakness.
It may be a good idea to take bed rest for some time. Applying ice compression will bring relief. Once treatment begins and the pain settles, it might be a good idea to take up gentle exercises such as stretching, yoga or pilates.