Backache (What it is)

The spinal column is one of your body's main supports. It is made up of 33 small bones (vertebrae) that surround and protect the spinal cord. At the base of the spine, the 5 sacral vertebrae are fused to form the sacrum, and the 4 coccygeal vertebrae are fused into the coccyx (tailbone). In the upper part of the spine, the 7 cervical (neck), 12 thoracic and 5 lumbar vertebrae interlock in a series of sliding joints that give your backbone flexibility. These upper 24 vertebrae are separated from each other by pads of cartilage
called intervertebral discs. These have a tough, flexible outer case with a soft, jelly-like centre and are designed to act as shock absorbers, cushioning the vertebrae from sudden jolts.

Back pain most commonly affects the lower, lumbar region of the spine. Most cases are due to excessive strain on muscles, ligaments and small joints. As well as discomfort from the damaged tissues, the surrounding muscles may go into spasm so pain and tenderness spread over a larger area. More severe symptoms will occur if the soft, jelly-like centre of an intervertebral disc ruptures through the outer fibrous coating under pressure a condition popularly known as a slipped disc. The prolapsed centre of the disc may press on the root of a spinal nerve to cause muscle weakness, pins and needles, spasm and pain in the back. If the sciatic nerve is irritated, pain will shoot down the leg. Back pain is most likely to affect people whose work involves heavy lifting or carrying, or who spend long periods of time sitting in one position or bending awkwardly. Almost any day to day activity can bring it on, however, including housework, gardening, and over-vigorous exercise. If you are overweight and unfit, with poor muscle tone, you are also at increased risk as apart from having to support a heavier load, your back will not receive the support it needs from your abdominal muscles.

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