Humans are no strangers to back pain. According to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute, about 65 million Americans report recently experiencing back pain. And approximately 16 million adults (that’s 8%) battle chronic pain in the back that limits some of their everyday activities.
“Back pain” is sort of an umbrella term that can mean different things, so let’s break it down a little further. Keep reading to learn more about lower back pain, upper back pain, and neck pain.
3 Types of Chronic Pain in the Back
Are you experiencing chronic pain in a specific area of your back? Let’s cover the three most common types.
1. Chronic Pain in the Lower Back
Lower back pain means that it’s affecting the L1 through L5 vertebrae. This is perhaps the most common type of discomfort. A whopping 80% of Americans will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.
There are many possible causes of chronic pain in the lower back. Injury is one of them, along with sciatica, arthritis, and ruptured/herniated discs.
People also commonly “tweak” their lower back when doing something seemingly insignificant — like picking something up off the ground. Sudden movements, twisting, and poor body mechanics can wreak havoc.
Another common culprit? Sitting. Poor posture often compounds the effects and puts strain on your discs. Your discs are what cushion your vertebrae and prevent them from rubbing together. Without that cushioning, pain can pop up.
Don’t forget, too, that it’s not only slouching that’s the problem. Arching/overextending your back is just as problematic. If your pain is extending down into your bottom, you might be dealing with this. The best posture is a neutral position, where your hips, spine, and shoulders are stacked upon each other. Engage your core and avoid spending too much time looking down. (Yes, posture includes your head and neck positions, too!)
2. Pain in the Upper Back
Your upper back is made up of 12 bones and spans the area between the base of your neck and the bottom of your ribcage.
As is the case with lower back pain, poor posture is a common cause here. The same can be said for people who spend too much time looking down at their phone (sometimes called “text neck”) or keyboard. That constant downward gaze can be a recipe for disaster.
Remember that when we’re slouching or otherwise have poor posture, we’re constantly underusing our muscles. Muscle underuse leads to their weakening. When that happens, our bodies will find other ways to compensate — but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. This is often why we end up in pain.
The same goes for muscle overuse. For example, do you have a profession that requires you to repeat the same motions over and over again? Or maybe you’re an Olympic weightlifter, and you snatch and clean and jerk hundreds of times a week. This is muscle overuse, and the result can be upper back pain.
3. Chronic Pain in the Neck
More often than not, chronic pain in the neck is a result of poor posture — meaning slouching and spending a lot of time looking down.
Aside from looking down a lot, you also want to avoid sitting with your head jutted out. This is a posture many of us slip into due to sitting at a computer all day long.
Remember what we mentioned earlier about wanting to achieve a “neutral” position. If any part of your spine is extending forward or backward, you can experience pain. And this includes your neck.
An Important Note About Chronic Pain in the Back
As you’ve probably noticed, a lot of back and neck pain can be chalked up to poor posture and failing to use your muscles properly. But it isn’t always this simple.
Something we want to point out is that just because you have pain in your back, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this is where it started, or that your back is the problem.
Sometimes, pain can actually start in your knees or hips and then end up in your back. Similarly, back pain can lead to problems with your hips, knees, and shoulders.
This is why it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose chronic pain. It might require you (and your medical professional) to look beyond the location of the pain itself. Thus, you might very well find it beneficial to take a more holistic approach to chronic pain management — which brings us to our final point.
How to Handle Chronic Pain Management
Because many of our experiences with chronic pain will be unique, the treatment of chronic pain varies. But here are a few general approaches you can try.
1. Move Every Hour
Remaining in any one position for too long is bad for your health — whether it’s sitting or standing. Thus, make sure to move your body at least once an hour.
Consider setting an alarm on your phone or computer to remind you. Spending even just three to five minutes moving your body each hour can work wonders for chronic pain in the back.
2. Incorporate Mobility
A lack of mobility is one of the main causes of pain and injury. For example, when you spend a lot of time sitting and slouching, your shoulders round forward and tighten in that position. Your pecs also tighten as a result. Because your hip flexor muscles are shortened, those too tighten up.
While the obvious solution is simply to sit less, you should also spend at least five to 10 minutes a day on mobility.
3. Alleviate Pain With Electric Muscle Stimulation
Because your chronic pain in the back might very well be a result of months and years of neglect, it’s going to take a little time to undo the damage. And that’s okay! But how can we relieve some of the pain in the meantime?
That’s where electric muscle stimulation (EMS) comes in. EMS can help to relieve chronic pain in the back thanks to the electrical pulses it emits. Using PowerDot’s Smart TENS programming, you can block pain signals from ever reaching your brain, helping to seriously take the edge off your chronic pain.
But it doesn’t end there. Because electric muscle stimulation improves muscle strength, mobility, and healing, you reap more and more benefits with every single session.
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Learn more about how to manage chronic pain.