Almost every individual has experienced or will experience pain and discomfort in their lower back during their lifetime. To put it into numbers, approximately 4 out of 5 people experience lower back pain. It is quite a common occurrence and in most cases not something that you should be worried about.
Nevertheless, it is important to be aware of what are the most common causes of lower back pain.
This post will provide you with a brief picture of what those causes might be, what are the symptoms and risks for developing lower back pain. It will as well provide you with treatment information from a point of a physical therapist.
Risks for developing lower back pain
As lower back pain is one of the most common causes for people to visit us, healthcare providers, we usually discuss the risks.
While discussing the risks, patients often relate themselves to them and therefore can reflect on their lifestyle.
In most cases, this even provides mental relief as they can recognize the risks in the future.
Now, what are those risks?
Age: Usually the older you are the bigger the risk is for developing lower back pain. This is because of the wear and tear that life brings with it.
As we age the discs in our spine that work as a cushion deteriorate. In some individuals, this may be a leading cause of pain.
It is really important to mention that worn-out discs occur with 80% of all people without ever getting noticed because there is no pain.
Weight: The extra weight puts more pressure on your joints and discs. This causes them to wear out faster as our body is constantly under a higher amount of pressure.
When it comes to working out at the gym, the extra weight accumulates over a short period of time. Instead of having a negative effect on our bones and joints, it actually has the opposite. That is the case because our body has time to recover and get stronger.
Weak Core: Weak core cannot keep your spine stable during any activities, even walking. This leads to instability and a higher risk for developing muscle strains and sprains.
Your work: Certain jobs require you to bend, twist and turn repeatedly, even lift and carry heavy objects.
The repetitive stress that you put on your joints and muscles causes them to wear out and fatigue faster. That leads to a higher risk for injury.
Disease and spine structure: There is evidence that shows that cancer can lead to back pain. Although it is only one of the many symptoms that play a part. When it comes to actual diseases that are the direct cause of back pain, osteoarthritis is the one.
Osteoarthritis leads to the breaking down of the joint tissue in our body which can occur in all of our body’s joints. Even those in the lower back.
One of the structural conditions that can cause severe pain is scoliosis. Scoliosis leads to misalignment in our back.
Mental health: Depression and anxiety have been shown to cause lower back pain. It can even be said that those mental disorders lead to changes in posture that negatively affect our back health.
Smoking & Drinking: Smoking has been associated with the decrease of blood flow throughout the body. The less blood that comes to disks and joints the faster they deteriorate.
Drinking leads to slower protein synthesis and worse quality of sleep. This means that muscles around the body do not manage to recover properly leading to an increased risk for muscle strains.
When to see a doctor?
In most cases, rest and anti-inflammatory medicine help with pain relief. If the pain does not subside after a few weeks and even gets worse you should seek medical evaluation. You should also see your doctor or/and physical therapist if the pain spreads down one or both legs or causes numbness and weakness.
Lower back pain can be a symptom of other serious conditions in some cases. If you experience the following symptoms accompanied by back pain you should immediately seek medical care.
- Unexpected weight loss
- Bladder problems
- Pain after fall or other form of trauma
Causes for lower back pain
As mentioned at the beginning of the post the pain experienced in the lower back can be a cause of many actions in the body. Most of them get diagnosed by a physical therapist or a doctor.
Sometimes to make the diagnosis clear the MRI, magnetic resonance imagining, needs to take place.
Now following are the most common causes of lower back pain:
Strain in the muscle- When repeated twisting, turning, and bending motions are induced in your everyday life, it can lead to fatigued muscle.
The further breakdown of the muscle fibers leaves them being inflamed. To prevent further damage to the area, the surrounding muscle can spasm. This is the most common cause of pain.
In some cases, if the appropriate action and rehabilitation do not take place, the pain can become chronic.
Bulging or ruptured discs- Between our vertebrae, bones in our spine, we have discs. These discs have nuclei and liquid inside them which works as a cushion.
Because of the repeated nonoptimal movement as mentioned above and repeated stress, the joints surrounding the discs deteriorate. This can eventually lead to bulging or rupture of the disc.
Now in a lot of cases, you would not feel any pain when this happens. Unfortunately in other cases, damage to the disc causes the pain.
Except for pain, you can even notice the effects on the nerves surrounding the affected area. Those effects being for example numbness down your legs.
Osteoarthritis- It is a condition that causes joints in your body to deteriorate. This includes even joints in your lower back.
When they deteriorate the space between your vertebrae becomes smaller which leads to a less cushioning effect in your spine.
In some cases, the joint deteriorates so much that the bones come into direct contact. You can imagine how this can cause pain and discomfort.
When the space becomes so narrow between the vertebrae it can lead to the formation of new bones. This leads to further pressure on the spinal cord, in a condition called spinal stenosis.
Osteoporosis- The bone density can become less over time which causes them to become weak and brittle. When that happens you become more vulnerable to vertebrae compressions and fractures.
How to treat lower back pain?
All previously mentioned causes might sound pretty scary but most of them usually have similar types of treatment.
While in some severe cases surgical intervention is needed, we healthcare providers try to stray away from this route.
You will probably end up meeting up with me, a physical therapist. We will go through the necessary steps to keep you strong, healthy and prevent further increases in pain.
Think about how you move your body
First and foremost we will discuss your living and working ergonomics. This means focusing on how you move or do not move during your work.
If you sit for prolonged periods we need to look at your sitting posture and correct it. Even when standing this exact method can be applied.
How are you standing? Are you keeping your core steady, relaxed, or tensed up?
All the small aspects play a big role.
If your work involves turning, bending, or lifting heavy objects, we discuss how adjustments can be made. Try taking breaks more frequently, switching working stance or activity.
When picking things up do not just bend in your back. Do a little squat and use your legs more. Your legs are powerful and can take a major load off your back.
Making these small changes can be game-changing. Decreasing your pain, increasing longevity and quality of your life.
Induce exercise in your life
With a physical therapist, you will mostly be going through strength and stability exercises. Those exercises will be strengthening not only your back but your legs and core as well.
In most cases, you will not perform exercises that directly work on your back strength at the early stage of rehabilitation. This is mostly due to you being in pain.
You may wonder how strengthening your legs and core help. Well, this is due to leg and core muscles having insertion points on your hip and pelvis.
The spine is attached to the pelvis and hips. That is why strengthening muscles that are holding your hips and pelvis stable and strong will directly have the stabilization effect on your lower back.
This extra stability leads to better control of your midsection and lower back, which combats lower back pain.
Flexibility will should be trained. While training flexibility the induced movement to the lower back causes new blood to come to the area. New blood coming to the area brings repairing particles and leads to inflammation decreasing. In the end, the less inflammation that you have, the better you feel.
Last but not the least, think about keeping your weight at healthy levels, try quitting smoking and drinking less.
This will lead to your body and bones not having to endure the stress that excess weight causes. Y
our muscles will be able to recover in time and get enough blood flow to them and joints as you combat your drinking and smoking habits.