Backache, one of the most common ailments, is widely prevalent these days due to sedentary living habits and hazardous work patterns. The psychological conditions associated with emotional stress, which bring about spasm of the muscles, may also cause backache. As the back bears the weight of the entire body it gives way when it has to carry an extra load in the case of persons who are overweight.
The back, a complex structure of muscles, bone and elastic tissue, is known as the life-bone of the body. The spine is made of 24 blocks of bone piled one on top of the other. Sandwiched between these bony blocks are cushions of cartilage and elastic tissues called inter-vertebral discs. The vertebral discs act as shock absorbers for the back. Mobility would be impossible without discs.
Sometimes these cushions rupture and the pulp protrudes a little. The process is erroneously called a ‘slipped’ disc. If the cushion disappears entirely, the result is known as a degenerated disc. In slipped-disc trouble, the nerve is affected in such a way that the pain radiates down the thigh and leg. If the disc ‘slips’ in the neck area, it causes numbness and pain radiates to the arms.
Disc trouble does not occur suddenly but builds up over a long time. The backbone forms a protective arch over the vertebrae and spinal cord and protects the spinal nerves that are interwoven through the spinal column. There is a close relationship between the bones, discs, joint muscles and nerves in the back and the slightest problem or injury to the back or neck area can have disastrous effects.
In most cases of backache, the pain is usually felt either in the middle of the back or lower down. It may spread to both sides of the waist and the hips. With acute pain, the patient is unable to move and is bedridden.
About 90 per cent of backache patients suffer from what is called cervical or lumber spondylosis. It is a degenerative disorder in which the vertebral bone or the inter-vertebral disc becomes soft and loses shape. As a result of this, the spine loses its flexibility.
The main causes of backache and spondylosis are muscular tension, joint strain, poor posture and incorrect nutrition resulting from dietetic errors and lack of exercise. Acute or chronic illnesses like kidney or prostate problems, female disorders, influenza and arthritis, may also lead to backache. Other causes include stress and strain resulting from sitting for a long time, improper lifting of weight, high heels and emotional problems which may cause painful muscle cramping.
Poor posture results from soft chairs and coaches, which facilitates slouching and sitting incorrectly. Shoes with high heels place a tremendous strain on the back and other muscles of the body. Sleeping on too soft a mattress which results in an improper back and neck posture, can cause tension, headaches and pain in the upper and lower back.
Another major cause of back problems and tense muscles is lack of exercise. Modern conveniences have made office work easier. The easy life can lead to obesity which puts a great strain on the back. When muscles are not exercised and remain weak, the chances of injury to them are increased manifold.
Drugs prescribed to relieve pain or relax muscles in backache disorders do not cure common back problems. These can become habit forming and may actually perpetuate the disease in case of excessive intake.
Certain safety measures, especially, for people in sedentary occupation, are necessary to relieve and prevent backache. The most important of these is exercise which improves the supply of nutrients to spinal discs, thereby delaying the process of deterioration that comes with age and eventually affects everybody. Safe exercises include walking, swimming and bicycling.
The latter should be done keeping the back upright. Controlling one’s weight is another important step towards relieving backache as excess weight greatly increases the stress on soft back tissues.
Those with sedentary occupations should take a break to stand up every hour. Soft cushioned seats should be avoided and position should be changed as often as possible. Persons with back problems should sleep on a firm mattress on their sides with knees bent at right angles to the torso. They should take care never to bend from the waist down to lift any object but instead should swat close to the object, bending the knees but keeping the back straight, and then stand up slowly.
Neck tension arising from long hours at the desk or behind the wheel of the car can be relieved by certain neck exercises. These include rotating the head clockwise and anticlockwise, allowing the head to drop forward and backward as far as possible and turning the head to the right and left as far as possible several times. These exercises help to loosen up contracted neck muscles which may restrict the blood supply to the head.
The diet of those suffering from backache should consist of a salad of raw vegetables such as tomato, carrot, cabbage, cucumber, radish, lettuce and at least two steamed or lightly cooked vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, spinach and plenty of fruits, all except bananas.
The patients should have four meals daily. They may take fruits and milk during breakfast, steamed vegetables and whole wheat chapatis during lunch, fresh fruits or fruit juice in the evening and a bowl of raw salad and sprouts during dinner.
The patients should avoid fatty, spicy, and fried foods, curd, sweetmeats, sugar, condiments as well as tea and coffee. Those who smoke and take tobacco in any form should give them up completely.
Proteins and vitamin C are necessary for the development of a healthy bone matrix. Vitamin D, calcium, phosphorous and the essential trace minerals are essential for healthy bones. Foods that have been processed for storage to avoid spoiling have few nutrients and should be eliminated from the diet. Vitamin C has proved helpful in relieving low-back pain and averting spinal disc operations.
Hot fomentations, alternate sponging or application of radiant heat to the back will also give immediate relief. Yogic asanas which are beneficial in the treatment of backache are bhujangasana, shalabhasana, halasana, uttanpadasana and shavasana.
The back can be strengthened through proper nutrition, exercise and relaxation and in the process general health will also improve.