Back Pain Conditions in Women
Back pain is a common condition. We all have felt it at some point in life. It usually occurs following an injury or strain and subsides on its own. However, for working women with a full-time office job, back pain may prove to be a serious and long-term condition.
Studies show that women are more likely to experience back pain, particularly in the lower back, than men are. Although problems related to back pain are typically observed in the postmenopausal age, i.e. above age 50, it may affect women at a young age. The most common causes for this include a sedentary lifestyle, lack of physical activity and stress. Desk jobs require you to sit in one place for a prolonged time. This often leads to muscle and nerve tensions related to posture.
Types of back pain affecting working women
Certain types of back pain are common to working women. These include
- Piriformis Syndrome
Piriformis syndrome refers to the pain originating in the piriformis muscle located deep within the buttocks. This usually occurs due to hormonal or pregnancy-related changes in the pelvis. Piriformis syndrome may compress the sciatica nerve, causing pain and irritation. The condition is characterized by the following symptoms –
- Chronic pain in the hips that worsens due to repetitive movements
- Pain when getting out of bed
- Pain that radiates to the back of your leg and thighs
- Inability to sit for long
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
This is a common cause of pain in working women. The surface area of the sacroiliac joint – the one that connects the bottom of your spine to the pelvis – in women is typically smaller than in men. This results in a higher concentration of stress within the joints. Symptoms of sacroiliac joint dysfunction may include –
- Pain in the lower back
- Achy or dull pain in the buttocks
- Sharp, stabbing pain down the thighs
Sacroiliac joint pain usually intensifies when climbing stairs, or lying or sitting on the affected side.
Osteoarthritis is common in women. Spinal osteoarthritis leads to the wear and tear of the fibrous cartilage in the facet joints, which connect your vertebrae, causing the bones to rub against one another and initiating pain. Spinal osteoarthritis may trigger –
- Pain in the lower back, thighs, buttocks, and groin
- Back pain and stiffness, especially in the morning
- Occasional flares of severe pain
This refers to a spinal disorder, where the vertebra slips forward onto the bone below it. Degenerative spondylolisthesis is more common in middle-aged women due to low oestrogen levels. Low oestrogen levels cause increased degradation of the vertebral disc and slackening of the ligaments holding the vertebrae together, leading to spinal instability. The condition may cause –
- Pain while moving around
- Lower back pain, which radiates to the legs
Coccydynia refers to the pain in your coccyx or tailbone, often caused by persistent irritation from prolonged sitting. The pain is typically observed when –
- Sitting on hard surfaces
- Leaning backwards while seated
Spinal osteoporosis fractures
Osteoporosis occurs due to low bone density. The condition makes your bones brittle and vulnerable to spinal fractures. Postmenopausal women are more likely to develop osteoporosis fractures than men are. Spinal fractures may cause –
- Localized, acute back pain, typically in the lower and middle portion
- Back pain that radiates to the front
If you are dealing with the debilitating symptoms of back pain that do not resolve with time or affect your daily work, do not hesitate to consult a doctor. He/she can help recognize and treat the underlying cause of back pain.
Ways to back pain at work
To prevent or manage back pain at work, you can follow these steps –
Balance your weight evenly on the feet when standing. Avoid slouching and keep your thighs parallel to the floor. To improve your posture while sitting, choose a chair that supports the spinal cord. Adjust the height of your chair in a manner that allows your feet to rest flat on the footrest or the floor.
Modify repetitive tasks
While working on the computer, ensure that the keyboard, mouse, monitor, and chair are properly positioned. Avoid twisting or bending unnecessarily. Limit the time you spend carrying heavy bags and purses.
Pay attention to your body
If your job requires you to sit in a place for a longer period, be sure to shift your position often. Go for walks every 1-2 hours to stretch your legs and relieve muscle tension.
Despite a hectic schedule, find some time to exercise at home to relieve back pain. Yoga and pilates are an excellent way to manage chronic back pain. Certain asanas or yoga poses like Bhujangasana, Dhanurasana, and Padmasana can help stretch your spine and muscles, and ease back pain.
A detailed medical history and physical examination lay at the crux of diagnosing back pain, followed by imaging and labs if a person has “red flag” symptoms, like a fever, suggestive of a possible infection, or unexplained weight loss, suggestive of cancer or inflammatory arthritis like AS.
Before examining your back, your doctor will ask you several questions about your back pain, like when it started, what makes it worse and better, and whether you have any associated symptoms like numbness or tingling. In order to speed up this process, it may be helpful to come to your appointment with a written description of your pain (as best as you can).
During the physical examination, your doctor will closely inspect and press on your spine structures, as well as the muscles correlating to the area of pain.
Sometimes, specific maneuvers can help your doctor pinpoint a diagnosis. For example, your doctor may perform the straight leg test, in which he raises your leg up while you lie on your back.
A thorough neurological examination, which includes testing the legs for strength, sensation, and reflexes, is also important for determining the source of your pain.
During this maneuver, pain that radiates below your knee is suggestive of L4-S1 nerve root pain, meaning those nerve roots are being compressed or irritated, often from a herniated disc or a bone spur from arthritis.
Depending on your doctor’s suspicion for a certain diagnosis, he may order various blood tests. For example, if your doctor is worried about an infection or cancer, he may order a complete blood count and inflammatory markers, like erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP).
Imaging tests are generally not needed for acute low back pain unless there are symptoms or signs concerning for cancer, infection, a fracture, or cauda equina syndrome. If an imaging test is warranted, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually the test of choice, with a computed tomography (CT) scan being the alternative.
More alarmingly, an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) can refer pain to the back, usually the mid to lower sections. A person with an abdominal aortic aneurysm may also experience belly discomfort along with a pulsating sensation in their abdomen.
Other conditions that may refer pain to the back include:
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Kidney infection
If your doctor suspects a referred source of back pain, a pelvic or abdominal exam may be performed, as well as various blood or urine tests.
The most frustrating aspect of the treatment of back pain is that it often takes time for symptoms to resolve. Most individuals recover completely by simply avoiding stress to the back. Keep in mind, though, that this does not mean prolonged bed rest. Instead, slow and mild physical activity can improve recovery time.
Patients often find that strategies like rest, ice, and heat can soothe their pain and possibly, speed up the healing process.
If the basic treatments for back pain do not relieve your symptoms, the next step is to seek medical evaluation. Depending on the symptoms and the length of the problem, your physician can create a treatment regimen, which may include taking one or more medications. Two of the most common medications used to treat low back pain include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) and muscle relaxants.
Epidural spinal injections, in which a steroid (cortisone) is injected into the epidural space around your spine, are sometimes used to alleviate symptoms of sciatica and spondylolisthesis.1 For spine osteoarthritis, a steroid injection into the affected facet joint is sometimes recommended for pain relief.
Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to help strengthen and stretch your back muscles, improve mobility and function, and help ease your pain. In addition, a low-impact exercise regimen, like walking, swimming, or biking, can help improve your range of motion and flexibility in conditions like spondylolisthesis, spinal osteoarthritis, or sciatica.
Back pain can turn out to be serious if ignored for long. Before it takes a toll on your work and health, get yourself diagnosed and seek medical assistance.
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