Many people will experience the pain and inconvenience of back problems in the course of their lives.
But according to Frank J. Cawley of Cawley Physical Therapy Rehabilitation, not all back problems come from the same source.
Where back problems originate on the spine has an affect on the type of pain one experiences, as well as the type of treatment necessary to alleviate it.
Cawley, who possesses a Master of Physical Therapy, gave a lecture to participants at the Falls Active Adult Center on Monday on three major types of back problems and their symptoms.
The first, Cawley explained, is a herniated - or ruptured - disc. He said there are five discs on the spin containing a soft spongy substance that acts as a shock absorber.
“The discs are like a jelly donut,” he explained. “If they get damaged they can rupture, and lose their fluid.”
When that happens, the discs rub directly against the spinal cord, causing pain. People with ruptured discs have a tendency to lean backward to relieve the pain, he said.
Another major cause of back problems is spinal stenosis, caused by osteoarthritis - a degenerative joint disease. Stenosis usually manifests itself in the 50s, Cawley said, and causes the spine to shrink. People experiencing stenosis are a bit shorter than when they were in their 20s, and will be even shorter when they reach their 70s. Bone spurs form on the spine, causing pain.
In contrast to a herniated disc, people experiencing spinal stenosis will lean forward to alleviate the pain.
“I’ve had people come in for treatment,” Cawley explained. “When they bend forward, looking down at the floor, I know what their problem is.”
A third problem occurs in the pelvic or sacroiliac joints, Cawley said. The problem manifests itself in the spine’s tail bone which is connected to the pelvis - and by extension to the ball and socket joints of the hips.
People experiencing pelvic problems usually feel off-balance. Pain often manifests itself in the hips, legs or feet.
“They don’t like transitional movement,” Cawley said. “Just getting out of bed can cause pain in the buttocks.”
Cawley explained that Cawley Physical Therapy Rehabilitation will perform a 30-minute evaluation with prospective clients to determine the nature of their back problems before making recommendations for treatment.
“There’s different cures for back pain,” he said. “There’s no cookie cutter treatment that will work on everything.”
What they offer, Cawley said, is different types of physical therapy to treat the pain.
“Many types of back problems cannot be cured,” he said. “But we can make you feel better. The only alternatives are injections - which are expensive - or surgery.”
Cawley also emphasized that the right exercise can be very effective in alleviating many types of back pain.
“Living well, eating well, maintaining a healthy weight. All these things are helpful,” he said.
One thing he strongly recommended was people who start exercising to alleviate back pain continue with their programs, even after they feel better.
“I’ve had people come back to me six months after being treated. They tell me the pain is back. And I know if I ask them did they continue to exercise, the answer is going to be no.”