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A bit about your back

The spine is made up of 33 small bones called vertebrae with discs that act as shock absorbers in between. These bones are given a code to show where they are in the spine. C followed by a number from 1 to 7 will refer to the vertebrae in the neck.

T 1-12 refers to the thoracic spine (from the bottom of the neck to the lumbar region).

L followed by 1-5 refers to the lumbar (or lowest) section of the spine.

Beneath the lumbar spine there are another 5 vertebrae fused together, forming the sacrum with the coccyx (or tail bone) underneath.

The discs are made up of a soft jelly like substance (the nucleus) which is held inside a tough, elastic and fibrous outer casing (the annulus). If the outer casing of these discs is damaged in any way and causes the nucleus to protrude, or even leak out, it causes what is commonly known as a 'slipped' disc, but correctly known as a prolapsed disc.

The muscles of the back support this structure and when these muscles go into spasm the most common form of back pain occurs. This often happens when you have been doing something strenuous or that involves a lot of bending or when you have been in an awkward position for a long time and go to move. There are other more serious causes of back pain such as disc prolapse and diseases of the spine, but if your pain has subsided and there are no unusual symptoms such as numbness, pins and needles or pain down the leg, muscle spasm would usually be the culprit (if your pain lasts longer than 48 hours and is getting worse, or if any of the signs previously mentioned appear, you should consult your GP immediately).

The lowest region of the back - the lumbar region - is the most vulnerable area, and back pain often occurs here. This is because the lower part of the spine bears the entire weight of the upper body, and is flexed, twisted and bent more than any other part of the spine. It therefore, inevitably, suffers more wear and tear.

You will notice that your spine is not straight, but is actually an 's' shape. Not all backs are the same 's' shape but they are usually curved with a hollow in the base of your neck and another in the small of your back. This shape should be kept in mind as it is important to keep the natural curves in your spine whatever you are doing.

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