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STRUCTURE OF THE SPINE

Your spine connects your skull to your pelvis and consists of 33 bones known as "vertebrae", which make up your spine. These vertebrae are grouped into four different regions, referred to as the cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral regions.

Each bone is stacked one on top of the other to form a column, and the vertebrae in the upper three sections of the spine have a kind of cushion – known as a disc – between them. You can think of these discs as being a bit like a doughnut, with a soft gel-like centre encased in a tougher, rough exterior.

Your spine protects your spinal cord, a bundle of nerves and support cells that act as the information pathway from your brain to your body.

The spine is a vital part of your central nervous system, which is why you should always seek medical advice if you are suffering from pain in any area of your back.

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE AFFECTED BY BACK PAIN?

Evidence suggests that up to over 80% of us will experience lower back pain during our lifetime.1 It is also estimated that, approximately 23% of adults are currently experiencing lower back pain that has lasted for at least 3 months, and can therefore be described as chronic.1 It’s no wonder that this is the case, as there are so many things in daily life that have an effect on the back. For example, things such as weight gain and even footwear can affect your back. There are many different causes of back pain, and all people with chronic back pain should see their doctor.

TYPES OF BACK PAIN

Back pain is very common, but in many cases the exact cause is not clear. The causes of back pain can be mechanical or inflammatory and may be the result of a number of causes such as infection, kidney or gastrointestinal diseases, polymyalgia rheumatica, or rarely, tumours.2,3 On this site, we will focus our discussions on mechanical back pain and inflammatory back pain. 

Most of the time,chronic lower back pain is mechanical . However, inflammatory back pain affects about 3% of people.Both of these types of back pain can limit your normal daily activities, as well as reduce your quality of life by impacting your sleep, your ability to work and your personal life.

But because both types of pain (mechanical and inflammatory) can have similar symptoms, it’s tricky to know the difference on your own. This is why it’s important for you to see a doctor and be able to describe your pain to them. This information will help your doctor make a diagnosis and appropriately manage your condition.

Take our 5-question Symptom Checker to assess the likelihood that your back pain is inflammatory, and find out more about how back problems are diagnosed.

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BACK PAIN
SYMPTOM CHECKER

There are different types of back pain and it's important to find out which type of pain you have, so it can be managed appropriately. If you have had back pain for more than 3 months, you should complete our short Symptom Checker to help you and your doctor understand if your back pain is more likely to be inflammatory.

REFERENCES

  1. Airaksinen O, et al. Chapter 4. European guidelines for the management of chronic nonspecific low back pain. Eur Spine J. 2006;15(Suppl. 2):S192–S300.
  2. Riksman JS, et al. Delineating inflammatory and mechanical sub-types of low back pain: a pilot survey of fifty low back pain patients in a chiropractic setting. Chiropr Man Therap. 2011;19(1):5–14.
  3. Atlas SJ, Devo RA. Evaluating and managing acute low back pain in the primary care setting. J Gen Intern Med. 2001;16:120-31.
  4. Hamilton L, Macgregor A, Warmington V, et al. The prevalence of inflammatory back pain in a UK primary care population. Rheumatology (Oxford) 2014;53:161-4.