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Back Injuries

Back Injuries

Most people will suffer a back injury in their lifetime whether it’s while taking part in sport or exercise or while just going about daily tasks. An injury to the back can be pretty troublesome as it can affect your mobility preventing you from going about your daily business.

At Össur Webshop, we provide braces and supports specifically designed to cater to a specific injury. Our experts will assist you in finding the right kind of brace so you can get back on your feet sooner, having made a full recovery.

About the Back

The spine runs between the skull and the pelvis. It forms the central axis of the body and is made up of 24 separate bones called vertebrae. These stack up on top of each other and in between each one is a circular pad of connective tissue or cartilage, the discs. Inside the fibrous, tough case of each disc is a soft gel which acts to cushion, preventing the vertebrae from rubbing against one another as you move around.

At the top of the spine there are seven vertebrae, which make up the neck region and allow you to move your head. There are 12 vertebrae, which support the rib cage and a further five in the lower back which form the lumbar region, which are the focus of back injuries. The lumbar region suffers the most stress due to its flexibility and the increased body weight it supports. Many people who complain of back pain and back injuries suffer with damage to their lumbar region.

Below you will find the most common types of back injuries - click on the relevant injury to find out more information. If you know what support or brace you need, visit our Back Supports & Lumbar Supports section.

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Types of Back Injuries

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis

A common question posed is what is ankylosing spondylitis, or AS? It is a chronic form of arthritis that causes pain and inflammation in the joints and tissues of the back and spine. As well as affecting the lower back, in some cases other parts of the body can be affected. Spondylitis means inflammation of the spine, and ankylosing refers to bones that fuse across a joint.

The symptoms and severity of this condition vary from one person to another. The most common symptom is back pain and stiffness. The buttocks and neck may also be affected. Symptoms often come and go over time, and whilst there is no cure, treatments such as medication, physiotherapy, products that offer back support, exercise and heat pressure may offer some form of relief.

Causes

There is no real known cause for AS, although a link has been made to a specific gene called HLA-B27. In 90% of people with AS, they have this gene. Many people, however, have this gene but do not go on to develop the condition, so it is thought that a trigger factor may be involved with those who are genetically predisposed to it. There is also a hereditary link, so if a parent or sibling has the condition, your chances may be higher of developing it too.

Symptoms

Symptoms usually develop anywhere between the ages of 15 and 35. AS is three times more common in men than women. Back pain is characteristic in all sufferers of AS, but there may also be inflammation of the joints, tendons or ligaments, as well as stiffness. The hips, knees, shoulders and ankles can also be affected in about 40% of cases. About a third of people with AS develop inflammation of the eye, which can be serious if left untreated.

Back pain from AS tends to feel worse when at rest, especially during the latter half of the night and on waking in the morning. Exercise, movement and back support can make it feel better, and sufferers often remark that symptoms ease as the day goes on. Fatigue, depression, anaemia and weight loss may also occur in people who suffer from this painful arthritic condition. It is also thought that sufferers carry a small increased risk of developing other diseases, such as psoriasis, osteoporosis, ulcerative colitis or cardiovascular problems.

Diagnosis

The distinctive spinal pain associated with AS can make it easier for a GP to diagnose this condition. However, other tests are usually carried out to make a confirmed diagnosis. Blood tests, x-rays and MRI or ultrasound scans help to identify inflammation and damage caused to the joints, bones or tissues.

Management

Despite there being no cure for the condition, about 80% of people with AS can remain fully independent or minimally disabled in the long term with the correct course of treatment and management of their back pain symptoms, such as through exercise, back support products or medication. Most of these people can lead a normal life. About one in ten sufferers will become severely affected and may develop deformities or inflexibility of the spine. With new treatments developing all the time, however, there is an increased chance that severely affected sufferers will be able to have an improved quality of life.

Backache in Pregnancy

Backache in Pregnancy

Backache in pregnancy is common, particularly during the final three months. But backache in early pregnancy can also be experienced, with those who have had children in the past more susceptible. You are more likely to experience pain in subsequent pregnancies since your abdominal muscles are more flexible, having been weakened from the last pregnancy. Weakened abdominal muscles requires the lower back to take on more work which can cause pain.

Causes

It is caused by the ligaments in your back stretching and becoming looser as your body prepares for labour. As a result the joints in your lower back and pelvis can become strained which causes some discomfort.

Prevention

Prevention is better than cure with back pain in pregnancy. It is important to protect your back if you are to avoid back pain during pregnancy. Make sure that you take the following precautions to avoid back pain whenever possible:

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects
  • Keep your back straight and bend your knees if you want to pick something up from the floor
  • Avoid twisting your spine when you turn around, turn your feet instead
  • Avoid wearing shoes with heels as flat shoes distribute your weight more evenly which is kinder to your back
  • Choose work surfaces that are the right height for you as you should not have to stoop as you work
  • If you are carrying shopping, put it into two bags and carry one in each hand so that the weight is distributed evenly
  • Keep your back straight when you are sitting and avoid slouching.
  • Rest as much as you can, particularly in the final trimester of pregnancy
  • Firm mattresses are a must during pregnancy and will help to relieve back pain. Place a piece of hardboard under your mattress if you think it is too soft.
  • Regular massage will also help to relieve the pain.

Management

Gentle exercise will ease backache in pregnancy. Exercises that strengthen your stomach muscles help because a stronger abdomen will relieve some of the weight of your pregnancy from your back.

Try this exercise:

  1. Begin on all fours, in a box position, with your knees below your hips and your hands under your shoulders. Your fingers must face forward. Use your abdominal muscles to lift your spine in order to keep it straight.
  2. Now pull your tummy muscles in, curling your back up to the ceiling, rather like a cat arching its back. Allow your head to relax towards the floor. It is important not to lock your elbows.
  3. Hold this position for a few seconds and then return to the box position. Do not allow your back to hollow but keep it straight.
  4. Repeat this exercise 10 times, at a slow and rhythmic pace. Move your back carefully and stop if it becomes uncomfortable.

For more information, take a look at this video online.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence or NICE, advises that massage therapy, exercise in water and private or group classes for back care during pregnancy are all safe ways to ease back pain when pregnant.

Aquanatal classes are provided by some local authorities at health centres across the county. These are exercise classes, especially for pregnant women, which take place in a swimming pool with fully qualified trainers. Exercising in water in this way is particularly good for the back because the water supports your weight so that your back does not have to.

Facet Syndrome (Zygapophyseal Joint Pain)

Facet Syndrome (Zygapophyseal Joint Pain)

For some people, pain in their back can be caused by a condition named facet syndrome or zygapophyseal joint pain. Though not a common malady, for those affected it can create significant disruption to everyday life. In most instances of Facet Syndrome, the condition is caused by a sudden movement which has applied trauma to the joint. Others find that the condition develops through long-term degeneration of the spinal discs.

The joints affected by this problem are located on either side of the body’s central spinal column, in between the disc and the vertebra. These connect with the facets of the next vertebra, both above and below, to create a continuous line. Each joint is there to stabilise the spine.

Causes

The back pain created by facet syndrome is typically located to one side or the other, rather than both. It will be made worse by bending or stretching the affected area, or by bending backwards and extending the spine in a way that adds pressure to the injured facets.

There are many theories about the causes of facet syndrome: some scientists believe that trauma and sudden movement causes pinching in the tissues between facets. These short-term inflammations of the area can cause back pain which lasts several days, as the swelling recedes. For those people whose pain is chronic and long-term, the causes are more likely to be similar to arthritic conditions and can result in constant pain.

Diagnosis

Facet syndrome can be diagnosed by a qualified physiotherapist or a doctor, who may need to take an x-ray of the spine to see its condition.

Treatments

People suffering with sudden-onset back pain caused by a trauma of some kind will typically be prescribed anti-inflammatory medication and rest. Heat packs, a back support or related products can also be soothing and useful during times of discomfort, as can massage performed by a qualified person who is aware of the condition and its manifestations.

Management

Those with chronic forms of the condition or pain which has persisted for more than seven days are recommended to see their doctor, who may provide a back support to help the lower spinal region. This kind of support to the lower back can be useful in assisting recovery. It also helps with improving a person’s posture, helping to increase muscle strength to prevent future loss of stability.

Exercises can also be used to strengthen the muscles in the back, which work in conjunction with the skeleton to support the body. Braces are also available to attach to seating, promoting good posture whilst driving, sitting or otherwise resting.

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Pain

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Pain

Sacroiliac joint pain is one of the most common causes of pain in the back. It is also sometimes referred to as SI joint pain. There are a number of reasons why the pain develops, but usually it can be easily treated and full movement of the affected joint will return.

Causes

There is not one single cause for pain within the SI joint. It could be due to a specific trauma, such as a fall, a biomedical mal-alignment, changes in hormone levels throughout pregnancy or an inflammatory disease within the joints. Movements such as sitting, lifting and bending can make an injury more painful. Whatever the cause of this hip pain, treatment is generally highly effective in relieving the symptoms and patients usually regain full use of the joint.

Symptoms

The symptoms of SI joint pain will usually be felt around the buttock and the bottom of the back. The lower back and hip pain will get worse when certain movements are made and it will feel like the joint has actually become blocked. Although these are the main areas where pain may be felt, this injury can also cause pain around the groin and rear of the thigh. However, it is very rare for any pain to occur beneath the knee level.

Treatment

Generally, there is no medical or surgical form of treatment for SI joint pain. If you are feeling this type of back or hip pain, then you should first consult your GP who will be able to refer you to a specialist. In the initial stages of the injury, it’s vital that you rest the affected area.

Manual therapy is one of the most effective ways of treating the injury. During a course of treatment, any abnormal stresses will be removed from the ligaments around the joint. This is designed to enable the joint to function as normal once again. Once this movement has been regained, a more extensive rehabilitation programme can be planned. The whole treatment process will focus on the specific muscles that are causing the pain and will vary between different patients.

While the injury is healing, you may wish to wear a joint support to help reduce the pain and improve your posture. Another way of relieving the pressure on the painful joints, is to follow a course of water based exercises, which put less stress on the body.

Prevention

One of the easiest ways of reducing your risk of developing SI joint pain is to look more closely at your posture. Having the correct posture when sitting, lifting, carrying and standing can help to prevent you getting into difficulties. Strength and stability exercises will also help to improve the function of your muscles and joints, reducing the risk of getting injured.

This type of back and hip pain can be extremely painful, especially if not dealt with correctly. If you think that you are suffering from SI pain, the sooner you seek advice the quicker your recovery will be.

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Dysfunction

Sacroiliac (SI) Joint Dysfunction

The sacroiliac joint is where the lower part of the spine (sacrum) connects with the ilium of the pelvis. It is a very strong joint, which acts a shock absorbing structure and transits forces of the upper body to the hips and legs.

Causes

The joint has very little motion and it is thought that the cause of pain is a change in the amount of motion; either too little or too much. If there is too much movement in the joint then pain can be felt in the lower back and sometimes the hips and groin. When there is too little movement the pain is typically felt on one side of the lower back or buttocks. The pain can be felt down the leg but usually not below the knee.

Symptoms

The symptoms are similar to other causes of back pain such as sciatica or slipped disc in the lower back; making it difficult to correctly diagnose sacroiliac joint dysfunction.

Diagnosis

One of the ways in which it can be diagnosed is to use a pain relieving injection on the joint. If this removes the pain then the clinician knows that the SI joint is the cause of the pain. This injection is also a method used to treat the symptoms of the condition.

Treatment

Treatment for sacroiliac joint dysfunction is usually non-surgical and aims to restore normal motion at the joint. To ease the initial pain ice and rest would be recommended, this process may last from two days to two weeks. After the initial, sharp pain has lessened a gradual return to normal activity can begin. At this point heat may help in the recovery process. If the joint’s movement is reduced and it is ‘stuck’, then chiropractic manipulation and physiotherapy may help to restore normal joint movement.

Physiotherapists should be able to give exercises that strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint. Low impact, aerobic exercise may also be prescribed to help with blood flow to the joint. The use of a supportive belt is often recommended to stabilise the joint. In cases where the pain is not relieved by nonsurgical methods there is the option to fuse the joint.

Prevention

There is little that can be done to prevent SI joint dysfunction and for many people it is part of the ageing process. Cartilage protecting the bones of the joint are damaged or worn away over time, causing pain in the region. However, maintaining a healthy body weight and keeping active can reduce the loads on the joint and slow down cartilage damage.

Sciatica

The human spine is made up of 24 vertebrae, between which are protective pads of tissue called intervertebral discs. The spinal column contains the spinal cord which transmits information around the body via the nervous system. Originating in the lower back is the sciatic nerve, the longest and thickest of all the nerves. The sciatic nerve runs down the lower spine through the buttocks and lower legs.

Causes

Sciatica is a condition causing pain in the lower back and legs due to irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve. The most common cause is a slipped disc, where the internal fluid of an intervertebral disc bulges out of the disc pushing against the nerve. The sciatica pain can be made worse with sudden actions such as coughing and sneezing, with sitting or standing for extended periods of time or by bending backwards.

Symptoms

Numbness, tingling and muscle weakness are all symptoms associated with sciatica.

Treatment

In the short term, sciatica can be treated using over the counter medicine such as ibuprofen, compression packs (hot and cold) and you should aim to continue being as active as possible. With severe symptoms or those that last over six weeks you should visit your GP. You may be advised to visit a physiotherapist or to try and relive long-term pain, where medicine hasn’t worked, the GP may recommend an injection of anti-inflammatory medication to the affected area.

Side Strain (Tear of the Oblique Muscles)

Side Strain (Tear of the Oblique Muscles)

Side strain refers to damage and the experience of oblique muscle pain, muscles which run from the bottom of the rib cage to top of the pelvis. They work to work to flex the back, such as when performing sit ups, as well as to aid in rotation of the trunk. Another function of oblique muscles is to aid in exhalation during breathing.

Side strains are fairly common amongst bowlers in cricket who very quickly rotate and flex their trunk during delivery. Injury can occur acutely if the muscles are stretched beyond their capacity or it may occur due to overuse over time.

Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the strain, symptoms can vary from mild discomfort at a grade I tear to high levels of pain with all trunk movements and even breathing if the muscle is ruptured as a grade III tear.

Treatment

Initial treatment is rest, ice and compression. Even with a Grade I tear it is essential to rest, once there is some damage it won’t take much more activity for the injury to progress. Icing the area can help with pain relief and aid in the reduction of any swelling. After some time of rest a physiotherapist will be able to provide correct stretching and exercises to carry out that will aid in the recovery process, ensuring the muscle heals well.

Correct warm ups and stretching routines will help to avoid side strains, as will good muscle conditioning. For athletes placing a lot of strain on their muscles it is key to prepare correctly for activity.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis

In spinal stenosis the structure of the vertebrae changes, causing it to narrow around the spinal cord, applying pressure to the nerves to create discomfort and pain.

Causes

The usual cause for spinal stenosis is arthritis. As humans age the water content of the intervertebral discs lowers, this reduces their ability to function correctly and the pressure on the vertebrae increases. The vertebrae can begin to become damaged and arthritis is developed. As the cartilage around the bone is worn away the body tries to replace it by producing additional bone. It is this additional bone (bone spurs) which can narrow the space around the spinal cord.

Symptoms

Depending on the severity of the arthritis people with spinal stenosis may suffer from back pain. The stenosis may apply pressure to the sciatic nerve, causing the symptoms associated with sciatica such as pain or numbness in the buttocks and upper legs. In some cases control of the foot may be lost and weakness in the legs may develop.

Treatment

Non-surgical treatment has been successful in relieving some symptoms of spinal stenosis but cannot alter the change in vertebrae structure. Physiotherapy and anti-inflammatory medicine can help to reduce pain and keep people active. If the person’s quality of life has become very poor, surgery can help to relieve pain and weakness in the back. A laminectomy or ‘decompression’ surgery removes the bone and ligaments which are causing pressure on the nerve. Alternatively if arthritis has progressed to cause spinal instability, the vertebrae can be fused together.

Slipped Disc

Slipped Disc

Slipped discs will result in back pain and may also cause pain in other areas of the body. This is often because the sciatic nerve has been affected by the slipped disc. The sciatic nerve is, in fact, the longest in the body, running from the pelvis, through the buttock area and down through both legs to the feet. Numbness, tingling in the leg and a long lasting aching sensation are frequently felt when pressure is applied to the sciatic nerve due to a ruptured disc.

Causes

Painful backs can be caused by slipped discs, also known as herniated or prolapsed discs. Put simply, they occur when a disc in the spine suffers a rupture and leaks the gel that is contained inside.

When the tough case of a disc splits, the gel within bulges outwards. This often results in pressure on the entire spinal cord or perhaps on one nerve root. As a result, back pain is often felt, both in the area of the slipped disc itself and the area controlled by the nerve the protruding disc is pressing on.

Age is often the cause of slipped discs because our spinal discs tend to dry a little as we get older. As a result they become less flexible and so are more likely to split or rupture.

Treatment

Recovery usually takes between four and six weeks. Treatment may consist of exercise and massage and pain relief medication. Usually, the disc shrinks back from the nerve it is pressing on and so the pain eases. If this does not happen within six weeks and the back pain is still severe, surgery may be considered to release the affected nerve by removing part of the ruptured disc.

It is essential to keep moving if you possibly can when you are suffering from a split or ruptured disc. Movement and exercise will speed up your recovery. Gentle exercise is best and should not place any kind of strain upon your back. Swimming is highly recommended because the water supports your back and joints as you swim.

Prevention

As always, prevention is better than cure for any back pain, particularly that caused by a slipped disc. Regular exercise helps and good posture when standing or sitting and, most important of all, make sure you lift heavy objects safely without stooping, flexing or twisting the back.

Spondylolysis

Spondylolysis

Causes

As always, prevention is better than cure for any back pain, particularly that caused by a slipped disc. Regular exercise helps and good posture when standing or sitting and, most important of all, make sure you lift heavy objects safely without stooping, flexing or twisting the back.

Treatment

Rest is essential to allow the bone to heal, whilst anti-inflammatory medication may help to reduce the back pain. Back braces are sometimes prescribed to protect and stabilise the spine. Physiotherapists will be able to offer advice on suitable activity and a timescale to return to full activity. If the condition is chronic, and there is no relief from back pain, surgery can fuse the spine and prevent future fractures.

Back pain can be a serious problem for those affected, but there are a number of options available in terms of supports and braces to help limit its impact on daily life.

Need More Help?

Our specialist team are on hand to provide further information or answer your questions and queries on back injuries. Getting in touch is simple, either call us on 0845 006 40 40, email us, chat to us online using our Live Chat function or fill in our contact form and we will get back to you.