You offer to help a friend move some furniture. As you bend over to lift a heavy dresser, you suddenly feel a sharp lightning strike of pain in your lower back! Or, you take a winning golf swing, and as you twist to deliver your killer shot, you feel something pull in your lower back that brings a sharp pain that puts an end to your game. Is this something serious you need to worry about?
Back pain is the most common reason people go to the doctor, or miss work. It can be acute (sharp pain lasting only a few weeks), or it can be chronic pain, lasting more than three months. Fortunately, for most people, low back pain is acute. Although painful, it lasts only for a few days to a few weeks, and does not cause any lasting problems with the functioning of the back. In fact, it usually can be resolved with home treatment.
Lower back pain afflicts most people at least once in their life. Some of the risk factors for developing lower back pain include:
- Age: 0ver 30
- Being overweight
- Lacking exercise
- Improper lifting
- Being seated for too long
Maybe you used your back instead of your legs when you were lifting that dresser or swinging that golf club. It is moves like these that are the most common cause of acute lower back pain: a torn or pulled muscle and/or ligament. This is caused by tearing or overstretching ligaments, and strains or tears in the tendon or muscle. This can happen from lifting something too heavy, twisting or lifting improperly, or overstretching. These types of movements can also trigger spasms in back muscles, which can also be quite painful.
Pregnancy is a known cause of lower back pain, due to changes in the position of the pelvis, and the changes in weight bearing load. Once the pregnancy is finished, the lower back pain should resolve on its own.
Mechanical Causes of Lower Back Pain – Disc Problems
Another one of the most common mechanical causes of low back pain occurs due to intervertebral disc degeneration. This is when the jelly-like discs between the vertebrae in your spine lose their integrity as part of the normal aging process. These discs, which dehydrate over time, normally allow bending, flexing and twisting of the lower back. As they deteriorate, they lose their ability to cushion the vertebrae.
Discs can also become herniated or ruptured when compressed, causing them to bulge outward, or rupture. Interestingly, herniated or ruptured discs do not always cause pain.
Nerve Problems Can Cause Pain
A condition called radiculopathy is caused when there is compression, inflammation, or injury to a spinal nerve root. This is often caused by spinal stenosis, or when a herniated or ruptured disc compresses the nerve root. Pressure on the nerve root can result in numbness, pain, or a tingling sensation that travels or radiates to other areas of the body served by that nerve.
Sciatica is a form of radiculopathy caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the large nerve that travels through the buttocks, and extends down the back of the leg. When the sciatic nerve is compressed, the person will feel a shock-like or burning lower back pain combined with pain through the buttocks and down one leg. This pain can often extend to the foot. In the most extreme cases of sciatica, the nerve is pinched between the disc and the adjacent bone. When this happens, the person experiences not only pain, but numbness and muscle weakness in the leg due to an interruption of the nerve signal. Sciatica may also be caused by a tumor or cyst that presses on the sciatic nerve, or its roots.
Another condition which causes lower back pain is spondylolisthesis. This is where a vertebra of the lower spine slips out of place, pinching nerves that are exiting the spinal column.
If you are experiencing pain or numbness when walking that leads to leg weakness and sensory loss, you may have a condition called spinal stenosis. This happens when a narrowing of the spinal column occurs, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. In some cases, osteoarthritis can lead to spinal stenosis.
Playing sports, car accidents, even a fall can injure tendons, ligaments, or muscles in the back. These types of traumatic injury can result in lower back pain.
If the spine curves abnormally, causing congenital deformity, then skeletal irregularities can also cause low back pain.
Underlying Conditions Predisposed to Back Pain
There are underlying conditions that predispose people to low back pain, including:
- Inflammatory diseases of the joints
Rarely, Serious Medical Conditions Can Contribute to Back Pain
Although it is rare, low back pain is sometimes related to serious underlying conditions. When this occurs, immediate medical attention is required. They include:
- Cauda equine syndrome
- Abdominal aortic aneurysms
You can learn more about the conditions that cause low back pain in the patient education library at Kamerlink Pain Institute. Take care of your back! Avoid lower back pain by maintaining good fitness, healthy weight, and always lifting with your legs, not your back.
Should you experience lower back pain and need medical attention, contact the Kamerlink Pain Institute for ethical, compassionate and comprehensive pain care. Call (561) 404-7667 today for a consultation with Dr. Kamerlink, to learn more about the different treatment options available for combating your back pain.