What Causes Low Back Pain?

Low back pain is a very common issue among adults. It is estimated that as many as 70% of people will suffer from at least one major episode of debilitating low back pain in their lifetime. There are a number of theories as to why this is so common. One theory is based upon evolutionary theory, which suggests that since we began walking upright late in our evolution, our backs are not as strong as any other part of the body. Other people theorize that back injuries are common because people don’t exercise enough, people weigh too much, people use the wrong technique when lifting, or people are genetically programmed to have disc problems.

There are a number of different types of back pain, and each one is caused by a variety of factors. Some of the most common causes of back pain are disc degeneration and muscular problems such as lumbar strain. At least 75% of back problems involve the muscles and may be caused by poor posture, chronic overuse, improper sleeping position, or lifting injuries. These problems are usually the most painful near the waist line, where the large back muscles meet the pelvis. It is typical for a muscle to hurt the most in the area where it attaches to the bone. Muscular pain usually gets better on its own over a few days. People suffering from back pain should limit their high stress activities, but bed-rest is no longer recommended. Medications such as Tylenol, Ibuprofen, or Aspirin may be helpful. Other ways to reduce back pain include heat, stretching, and massage.

Disc problems typically cause pain in the middle of the back. It is not as common as muscular pain, but it is more chronic in nature and can come and go frequently. Those who have disc pain flare-ups need to avoid excessive lifting, twisting, or bending. Disc problems may be an indicator of degeneration, in other words arthritis, of the disc. There may also be an accompanying disc herniation, in which a piece of the disc breaks off and pinches a nerve that goes down the leg. The leg pain can be mild or severe, and is known as sciatica or radiculopathy. Sciatica has a high rate of getting better on its own.

There are a number of other causes of back pain aside from muscular and disc problems. Pain can also occur in other points of the spine, such as the sacroiliac and facet joints. Back pain can also be caused by kidney problems. Symptoms that should prompt you to call a doctor include fevers, night-sweats, chills, unexplained weight loss, or pain that doesn’t start to get better after a few days. There can also be more severe symptoms, such as weakness in the arms or legs, bowel or bladder problems, inability to walk, or a tearing pain in the middle of the back. These symptoms should probably be evaluated in the emergency room. If you have other major medical problems, persistent back pain should definitely be evaluated. If you have any severe, recurrent, or confusing symptoms, discuss them with your doctor.

Smoking can also cause low back problems. When a person smokes, the body is unable to repair normal wear and tear to the disc because nicotine clamps down the blood vessels that supply nutrition and oxygen to the disc. These changes can accumulate over time, making the disc generate faster.

As with many other medical problems, prevention of back problems is very important. In order to decrease the likelihood of back injuries, it is a good idea to get regular exercise, use proper lifting techniques, and try to maintain a healthy body weight. If you do suffer from a back injury, a stronger back will get better faster. One standard recommendation is weight-bearing aerobic exercise, such as cycling or walking as opposed to swimming. Another recommendation is to do lumbar flexor muscle strengthening. This includes abdominal crunches and straight leg lifts. When lifting weights or objects, make sure to use your knees to keep the weight near your body rather than far out in front of you.

Low back pain is an issue that affects a large number of people. Make sure to practice common prevention techniques in order to reduce your chances of suffering from low back pain. If you have back pain that is persistent or comes back frequently, make sure you visit your doctor.

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