If the symptoms of back pain are left untreated, the backbone disease or pathology can worsen and give rise to complications, the effects of which can be literally crippling. These complications are particularly seen with chronic or severe back pain.
Most of these serious complications require surgery to put you back on your feet. To prevent this, promptly arresting the causes that give you back pain and following the right management protocol is the best solution.
Complications of back pain
With severe and advanced back pain keeping you away from work and activity, rest is the only option for your aching backbone. And this rest is usually a prolonged affair, the consequences of which are not just restricted to your back but affect you in other ways as well.
Physical inactivity due to your aching back causes your muscles to become weak. Severe back pain significantly limits your physical activity and greatly increases periods of prolonged bed rest. This can lead to muscle weakness and later disuse atrophy.
See what the National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine has to say:
“Prolonged immobility is harmful with rapid reductions in muscle mass, bone mineral density, and impairment in other body systems evident within the first week of bed rest, which is further exacerbated in individuals with critical illness.’
Joints become weak due to non-use
Joint weakness is again a fallout of prolonged bed rest and physical inactivity. Any negative deviation in the range of movements of a joint for a significant period causes the joints, ligaments, tendons, and related muscles to become stiff.
Two to three weeks of immobilization will produce significant joint movement restriction because of muscular atrophy caused by physical inactivity.
There is an imbalance of the opposing muscles acting on the joint, which progressively restricts the joint movements resulting in the deformity and rigidity of joints.
An example of such joint rigidity is that of the knee after the leg is kept in plaster and immobilized for six weeks to treat a fractured tibia.
Bones become weak
When there is little physical stress acting on the body, there is a drastic reduction in the mineral content of the bones. This causes loss of bone density and bone strength and is referred to as disuse osteoporosis.
There are two types of activities taking place inside the bone matrix:
- Building up of new bone matrix and
- Breaking down of existing bone matrix
During circumstances of normal health and physical activity, a constant equilibrium is maintained between build-up and breakdown of bone matrix, and bone strength is preserved.
The process of building a new bone matrix relies on the mechanical stress of physical activity, in the absence of which new bone formation takes a hit while the breakdown process continues. This is the reason why there is bone weakness during prolonged physical inactivity.
Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda Equina is the name given to the group of nerves in the spinal canal emerging from the spinal cord at the levels L1-5 to S1-5. This mass of nerves gives the impression of a horse tail, hence the name.
Cauda Equina Syndrome is due to the compression of the Cauda Equina. This complication is severe but rare.
Causes of cauda equina include
- Prolapsed intervertebral Disc. (PID)
- Pressure from a collapsed vertebra
- Spinal Stenosis
- Space occupying lesions (SOL) such as a tumor or an abscess
Symptoms of cauda equina:
- There is sensory loss (loss of sensation) and/or motor loss (inability to move) in one or both the lower limbs
- Urinary and bowel incontinence (loss of control)
- Sexual dysfunction
Back pain is the second leading cause (after the common cold) of people abstaining from work. It limits your physical movements, senses, cognitive, intellectual, mental, sensory, and developmental abilities.
The disability complication of back pain is so sizeable that it affects one out of ten people worldwide causing them to stay at home at one time and then another.
Pain, while sitting, standing, and walking just does not allow the person to attend work.
The factors that cause back pain and increase its risk run across the board affecting a vast majority of the population. In causing disability, it beats 300 other health conditions worldwide.
If you leave your slipped disc untreated, it keeps on pressing on the nerves emerging from the spinal cord at the concerned level. Over time the nerve suffers damage, which can be permanent and irreversible.
The complications such as the loss of motor and sensory functions in the lower limbs, urinary, and bowel incontinence, and sexual dysfunction can then stay permanent.
Depression due to chronic pain
The link between chronic back pain and psychological disorders like depression is strongly supported.
Clinically diagnosed depression is reported to be four times more prevalent in people with chronic back pain as compared to the general population.
These patients suffer from a type of depression called major depression or clinical depression. This severe form of depression can disable the life of the person.
To know exactly how the patient feels, read the definition of depression:
Depression is defined as a persistent feeling of
- Low spirits due to loss of hope and courage
- Persistently being sad, anxious, or in an empty mood
- Feeling dejected
- Loss of interest in all activities
Reasons for depression in back pain patients:
- Not being able to perform daily tasks
- The disabling pain can cause problems with work and financial issues.
- Low self-esteem because he has to depend on others for simple tasks and the feeling of being a burden
- Loss of sleep due to the worsening pain while lying down
- Stress and anxiety worsen the pain symptoms and can additionally cause severe headaches
To make matters worse, chronic back pain causes anxiety, stress, and depression, and these mental states, in turn, increase the intensity of the pain. A vicious cycle develops.
Complications of back pain during pregnancy and labor
Low back pain is seen more in young women and the back pain is usually moderate in severity hindering daily tasks.
Studies indicate that women who suffer from back labor usually have the fetus in an undesirable position in the uterus. This decreases the chances of normal delivery.
The following complications due to pregnancy back pain are then usually faced:
- Need for painkillers during pregnancy, which is not desirable
- Sleep disturbances
- Prolonged labor increases the fatigue of the mother
- Natural delivery may be hindered increasing the risk of using forceps or vacuum, episiotomy, or cesarean section