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Bone scans are used to detect and monitor infection, fracture, or disorders in the bone. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream and will collect in the bones, particularly in areas with some abnormality. Scanner-generated images can be used to identify specific areas of irregular bone metabolism or abnormal blood flow, as well as to measure levels of joint disease.
The discs are pads that serve as "cushions" between the individual vertebral bodies. They help to minimize the impact of stress forces on the spinal column. Each disc is designed like a jelly donut with a central, softer component (nucleus pulposus) and a surrounding, firm outer ring (annulus fibrosus). The central portion of the disc is capable of rupturing (herniating as in a herniated disc) through the outer ring, causing irritation of adjacent nervous tissue and sciatica as described below. Ligaments are strong fibrous soft tissues that firmly attach bones to bones. Ligaments attach each of the vertebrae to each other and surround each of the discs.
For the 31 million Americans who suffer from daily back pain, relief can be hard to find. In fact, back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor. While it can be caused by many different things—extended periods of sitting or standing at work, bad posture, stress, an overly-strenuous workout or helping a friend move, to mention a few—once back pain hits, it can stick around for a long time. Your gut instinct might be to stay frozen until it goes away, but the best thing for your back is to keep it moving with gentle stretches. In fact, a regular routine of a few quick exercises can help you reduce your back pain without a trip to the doctor. Try to do the following exercises every morning and again at night.
The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.
If you’re someone who’s got a good stretching routine down, both before and after a HIIT workout, bike ride or run, odds are the discomfort you feel indicates that there are grounds for more strengthening exercises. It’s important to add that many yogis with extremely flexible hips run into overstretching injuries like hip flexor strains. But, these injuries aren’t just limited to the uber-flexible. Runners, cyclists, and Stairmaster lovers might strain these muscles due to frequent overuse. We’ll share a hip flexor workout below but, first up, some stretches.
Imaging is indicated when there are red flags, ongoing neurological symptoms that do not resolve, or ongoing or worsening pain. In particular, early use of imaging (either MRI or CT) is recommended for suspected cancer, infection, or cauda equina syndrome. MRI is slightly better than CT for identifying disc disease; the two technologies are equally useful for diagnosing spinal stenosis. Only a few physical diagnostic tests are helpful. The straight leg raise test is almost always positive in those with disc herniation. Lumbar provocative discography may be useful to identify a specific disc causing pain in those with chronic high levels of low back pain. Similarly, therapeutic procedures such as nerve blocks can be used to determine a specific source of pain. Some evidence supports the use of facet joint injections, transforminal epidural injections and sacroilliac injections as diagnostic tests. Most other physical tests, such as evaluating for scoliosis, muscle weakness or wasting, and impaired reflexes, are of little use.
Lumbar strain (acute, chronic): A lumbar strain is a stretch injury to the ligaments, tendons, and/or muscles of the low back. The stretching incident results in microscopic tears of varying degrees in these tissues. Lumbar strain is considered one of the most common causes of low back pain. The injury can occur because of overuse, improper use, or trauma. Soft-tissue injury is commonly classified as "acute" if it has been present for days to weeks. If the strain lasts longer than three months, it is referred to as "chronic." Lumbar strain most often occurs in people in their 40s, but it can happen at any age. The condition is characterized by localized discomfort in the low back area with onset after an event that mechanically stressed the lumbar tissues. The severity of the injury ranges from mild to severe, depending on the degree of strain and resulting spasm of the muscles of the low back. The diagnosis of lumbar strain is based on the history of injury, the location of the pain, and exclusion of nervous system injury. Usually, X-ray testing is only helpful to exclude bone abnormalities.
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Foraminotomy is an operation that “cleans out” or enlarges the bony hole (foramen) where a nerve root exits the spinal canal. Bulging discs or joints thickened with age can cause narrowing of the space through which the spinal nerve exits and can press on the nerve, resulting in pain, numbness, and weakness in an arm or leg. Small pieces of bone over the nerve are removed through a small slit, allowing the surgeon to cut away the blockage and relieve pressure on the nerve.
Cycling: The repetitive movements of cycling can place a strain on your hip joints, not to mention that it can also affect your posture! If you really must cycle, make sure your bike is professionally fitted and that you properly warm up and stretch your hip flexors before getting on your bike. I’d recommend choosing an alternative though, or at least speaking to your doctor first!
The problem is that these muscles aren't designed to be prime movers—they're designed to support the action of the glutes. Inability of activating the glutes can result in low back pain (low back muscles compensating), hamstring strains (overacting hamstrings), hip pain (resulting from hamstring-dominant hip extension) and knee pain (poor glute medius strength).
Just because your hip flexor region feels sore doesn’t necessarily mean the muscles there are tight — in fact, they might need strengthening. This is where that sports science debate we mentioned earlier comes into play. It’s important to identify whether you’re tight or if the muscles are weak. Again, the Thomas Test will help you identify if you’re maybe stretching something that actually needs strengthening.
Blood tests are not routinely used to diagnose the cause of back pain; however in some cases they may be ordered to look for indications of inflammation, infection, and/or the presence of arthritis. Potential tests include complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and C-reactive protein. Blood tests may also detect HLA-B27, a genetic marker in the blood that is more common in people with ankylosing spondylitis or reactive arthritis (a form of arthritis that occurs following infection in another part of the body, usually the genitourinary tract).
If most inner-thigh openers feel too easy (and your ankles and knees are injury-free), try Frog Pose. Get down on all fours, with palms on the floor and your knees on blankets or a mat (roll your mat lengthwise, like a tortilla, and place it under your knees for more comfort). Slowly widen your knees until you feel a comfortable stretch in your inner thighs, keeping the inside of each calf and foot in contact with the floor. Make sure to keep your ankles in line with your knees. Lower down to your forearms. Stay here for at least 30 seconds.
Simply stand up straight with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Slowly bend your knees and hips, lowering yourself until your knees obscure your toes or you achieve a 90 degree angle. Hold for a count of 5 and then gently resume your original position. This can be a tough one so again, don’t overdo it and hold on to a table if you need a little extra support! Try to repeat between 5-10 times.