Mechanical back pain is a type of back pain which comes from abnormal stress on the muscles surrounding the spinal column. It is often felt as a throbbing or aching feeling which gets worse when moving but appears to improve when resting.
Mechanical back pain can result from a number of causes. The pain is generally triggered by the movement of the ligaments, muscles, tendons, vertebrae, discs and joints. This type of back pain can also be felt in various regions of the back and neck and is not always isolated to a specific region.
One of the most common regions affected by mechanical back pain is in the lumbar spine and presents itself as a lower back pain. When you are standing, this region of the spine is taking most of the weight of your body. It also absorbs a lot of your body weight when you are moving. The upper back and neck are also effected by movement and support your head during motions such as side to side, nodding and back and forth movements. Even when not in motion, the muscles, vertebrae, tendons and ligaments are at work to counteract the effect of gravity and other stresses.
Common causes of mechanical back pain
Some of the causes of mechanical back pain include herniation of the discs (slipped disc) which cause nerve compression, inflammation and pain. Symptoms include tingling in limbs, numbness, weakness and pain.
Sprains of the back and neck are caused from spinal ligaments being stretched or torn causing the soft tissue to swell and is often associated with whiplash. This can also result in stiffness or muscle spasms. Pain is not localised and might be difficult to pin point exactly where it starts.
Spinal Stenosis in the lumbar region (lower back) is caused by narrowing of the spinal canal or nerve root passageways. This compression results in lower back pain which can radiate into the legs.
Another common cause of mechanical back pain is Spondylolysis or Spinal Osteoarthritis. This is characterised by common arthritis symptoms such as inflammation, pain and stiffness. Arthritis of the spine can start anywhere along the spinal column.
Vertebral Compression fractures are generally caused by some sort of trauma or injury. It is often associated with other diseases such as osteoporosis which causes vital minerals to leech from the bones, causing them to become brittle and weak. If there are underlying causes, vertebral compression fractures can even occur from simply bending or lifting. The back pain felt with this type of injury is generally sudden and very severe.
Spondylolisthesis, commonly known as a slipped vertebrae, is caused when one vertebrae moves over another one. This can be minor to very severe in the case of a complete slip. Symptoms can include muscle spasms and severe pain.
Congenital deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis are due to the spine not developing correctly while in the womb and can lead to back pain during early childhood and later in life.
What you can do about mechanical back pain
More than two thirds of adults report some mechanical back pain at some point in their lives. This type of back pain also results in a lot of medical bills. Lower mechanical back pain is experienced by men and women and generally occurs for the first time between the ages of 30 and 50. Smoking appears to have an impact on this type of back pain, with a higher incidence of back pain among smokers as opposed to non-smokers.
Treatment for back pain can be symptomatic or directly related to the underlying cause. Acute back pain with no complications is generally treated with medication with no further study required unless the symptomatic treatment does not help the problem. Radiographs are recommended for people that have a history of steroid use, previous spinal trauma and osteoporosis. MRIs are used to check for spinal compression or injury, infections and malignancies. Where the spine has had past surgical intervention, contrast MRIs are used to evaluate the spine in the case of a recurrence of chronic back pain.
There are many causes of mechanical back pain and in the UK alone, more than 10 million sick days are lost per year due to this type of illness. This equates to more than 1 billion pounds of lost earnings, mostly in the workforce aged over 50. Due to most of the population spending a lot of time seated, whether for work or in front of the TV, the prevalence of aching backs is on the increase in the UK. Staying active is recommended to reduce back pain in later years.