Do you suffer from low back pain? No need to fret as you aren’t the only one!
Lower back pain is probably among the few illnesses like cold and cough that most of us experience in our lifetime. And yet the causes for the lower back pain differ between individuals. While for some it could be due to the strain on their back muscles caused by lifting heavy objects, for some it could be a ruptured disc or cancer in the spinal region or a hernia. The pain could also be a result of an injury sustained in the spinal region.
Studies indicate that people in the age group of 30-50 years are more prone to be affected with lower back pain. Ageing is also looked upon as a cause since, with age, the gel between the vertebrae thins out causing more friction resulting in pain. It is therefore very important to keep your back muscles strong as you grow up and age, to have a healthy life.
In this article, we will look into the various causes of the lower back pain, the regions where they occur, how it affects men and women, the difference between acute and chronic pain, and reasons for pain intensify with specific postures such as pain while walking or sitting.
What is lower back pain?
There are a lot of definitions on what construes lower back pain, and yet people often confuse it with other pains such as kidney pain. So, let us first understand what constitutes our lower back region. The region which starts just below our ribcage is referred to as the lumbar or the lower back region, and any pain you experience in this area falls under the low back pain category.
The pain, irrespective of the causes, can be quite severe that many of us take leave and try to rest our backs for some time.
Let us first look at the various causes or the reasons why you might feel pain in your lower back.
What causes the pain in the low back?
Knowing the reason behind the pain and understanding the symptoms will help you give accurate information to your doctor who can then diagnose the problem and provide you with an effective treatment. Here we will give you a brief peek into the different causes and the symptoms that you might experience with each of them.
- Muscle sprain and strain
This is the most common cause of stress and pain in your low back. When a muscle is stretched farther than it should be and it ends up tearing or the ligaments attached to the bones end up strained or torn, it results in muscle strain or muscle sprain. You will not just experience pain in your lower back, but you will also find your back to be stiff and sometimes there is also a possibility for muscle spasms.
When you lift heavy objects suddenly, or you are using a poor posture while standing or sitting, or you make sudden movements that exert pressure on the lower back, then it ends up in muscle sprains.
They are not very serious, and the best treatment is to take rest. You will find yourself getting better in days, if not in hours.
- Injury to the disc
We often hear people saying that they have slipped disc. Ever wondered what they mean by that?
The discs are the cushion found in between our vertebrae that keeps them intact, ensuring that they do not push against each other. These discs have a soft jelly-like inside with a tough surface on the outside. It is when this jelly gets out of the surface, or when there is a tear on the disc, that we experience pain in the lower back. This condition is referred to as “slipped disc”, “herniated disc” or “ruptured disc” in medical terms.
When the tear happens and the jelly bulges out, it adds pressure on the nearby nerves which will cause pain and numbness.
When you have a disc injury, you will usually experience pain in your arms and legs depending on where the ruptured disc is located. In the case of the lower back region, the pain will be intense in your calf muscles, things and buttocks region.
Mostly, disc injuries are related to the age as the gel thins out with the ageing causing the bones to rub against each other adding on the pressure. It is not mandatory for surgery to solve the herniated disc. However, if you experience weakness and numbness along with pain in your legs, then you should seek medical attention immediately.
The nerve that runs from our lower back to the back of each leg is called the sciatic nerve and any pressure on this nerve can cause severe pain in the lower back region. This condition is referred to as “Sciatica”.
Most of the times the back pain you are experiencing could be due to some strenuous activity you undertook. However, if the pain feels like a leg cramp and doesn’t go even after a few days, then it probably could be sciatica. The pain often shoots down one leg, and it is more severe when you sit, sneeze or cough.
Prolonged poor posture while standing or sitting or people who have to maintain the same posture for long hours are often the ones who suffer from this kind of lower back pain. Degenerative arthritis in the spinal region can cause pressure on the sciatic nerve ending in pain.
Women often find themselves facing this issue during pregnancy when the developing uterus applies pressure on the sciatic nerve. Most of the times, this doesn’t need surgery for treatment.
- Spinal stenosis
The narrowing of the spinal canal, referred to as the Spinal Stenosis can also be the cause of the pain in the lower back region. The spinal canal is nothing but the bones of the spine that keeps your spinal nerves safe. When this canal starts narrowing, it starts compressing the spinal nerves and their roots, resulting in pain. It is a condition that is often found in individuals who are above the age of 50. Some people also have a narrow spinal canal by birth. The changes in the spinal structure due to injury or a surgery or a disc bulging or any other degenerative changes can lead to Spinal Stenosis. Apart from cramping in the legs and pain, it can also affect the bladder and bowel movements. Narrowing of the spinal canal alone is not a condition to worry with. It is a cause to worry when coupled with symptoms like numbness, pain and lack/reduced bowel, bladder movements, etc.
- An injury
If you are a sports player or you take part in some seriously dangerous activities where there are chances of injury, then you have higher chances of getting low back pain. If you have met with an accident where you injured your back can also be a reason for the pain in your lower back. When you suffer an injury, there are chances of your spinal nerves being restricted which will further result in sciatica and hence pain in your lower back.
- Other causes
Apart from the above-discussed points, below are other causes that can result in lower back pain. Few of them are,
- Abnormal curvature in the spinal muscles which are generally present from birth which results in poor posture, additional pressure on the muscles, ligaments, etc. and of course pain.
- Inflammation between the bones in the spinal cord also referred to as “Spondylitis“.
- When there is a loss in the normal spinal structure or functioning, owing to a degenerative disorder, it can cause pain in the lower back. This condition is referred to as spondylosis and is mostly found in people who age.
- When the tendons, joints, and muscles are quite tender to the touch, and there has been a pain for a longer period.
- While not all infections can be a cause for the pain in the lower back, if the infection affects your vertebrae, then it can shoot up as pain in your lower back.
- Cancer can also cause pain in the lower back region, but this is generally a lesser likely scenario as it spreads from other parts of the body.
- When the blood vessels that supply blood to the legs, pelvis, and abdomen enlarges abnormally causing an aneurysm, then it can end up in back pain.
- While kidney stones can also be a cause for back pain, it doesn’t get classified as lower back pain for it happens only one side and around the hip region.
Apart from the above illnesses and injuries, there are also other factors that given time can lead to low back pain. This will typically include,
- As you grow old, your bone strength comes down considerably which means your muscles lose their elasticity and the vertebrae lose the cushion it usually has. That is why you find a majority of the lower back complaints raising from age groups above 30.
- Staying fit and healthy is not an option but a necessity. But then again if you are going to stay put for the entire week and only workout on the holidays, you will increase your chances of back injury.
- For women, pregnancy is a common cause for back pain that results postpartum.
- For children, overload on their school bags can be the reason for the strain on back muscles causing the lower back to ache.
- Obesity is also cited as a factor that leads to pain in the lower
- Genetic factors can also play a role in the spinal joint formation that can cause low back pain.
- If your work involves a lot of heavy duty work, pulling, lifting, pushing, etc. which can strain your spine then it could lead to low back aches.
- Lastly, studies also indicate depression and anxiety also being a cause for pain in the low
Chronic lower back pain, how it differs from “Acute”
As we saw earlier, among the different causes for lower back pain, the pain due to muscle sprain or strain often goes away by itself. You would need either a good rest to your back or undertake some massage therapy to get rid of these back pains. However, if pain continues to persist for more than three months without any reprieve, then it is classified as “chronic“. In cases where the pain persists consistently for three months, you must consult your doctor and have it diagnosed right away!
Is chronic pain the same as the acute pain?
No, they are not the same. Acute pain is something that lasts only for a moment, and it need not always be severe sometimes though it could last for more than a moment. But once it goes away, you will be able to proceed with your usual routine like before. Acute pain is similar to pain from surgeries, childbirth, etc. In the case of chronic pain though, the pain is consistent, ‘dull’ and it continues to exist even after the primary cause of the pain goes away. It prevails for more than three months. For example, you could have hurt your back two years back, and yet your back will continue to hurt even after the wound has healed. This is a typical example of chronic pain.
Men Vs. Women – who suffers more?
Back pain doesn’t distinguish between men, women or children. Anyone who performs physically strenuous activities or those who are not healthy are prone to lower back pain. However, if you were to compare men and women, studies indicate that women have higher chances of developing lower back pain. Studies also indicate that out of the patients who suffer from disc prolapse; men were faster to recover than women. According to research, this is because the genetic structure in women which promotes chronic pain works the other way around in men. The gene which motivates pain in women suppresses it in their counterparts. Most common of the conditions that women suffer from are
- Injury to the tailbone often the result of childbirth.
- Chances of degenerative spinal diseases due to lower bone density.
- More prone to muscle spasms in the sciatic region.
- Impact on the SI joint that connects the pelvis and upper body due to pregnancy
Are the pain on my left/ right lower back and the middle lower back resulting from the same cause?
When we say lower back, as defined earlier, it is the region that starts below our ribcage. But depending on the exact location of the pain, the cause might also vary.
For instance, if you are experiencing pain in your right or left lower back, then it could be due to problems with the kidney or the region surrounding the kidneys. In such cases, the treatment would vary based on the kind and severity of the problem. Again, the pain in these regions necessarily need not to be kidney related and could be a simple muscle sprain too. Your doctor can help you make the right diagnosis. This article will guide you to distinguish kidney pain.
The region from the base of the neck to the end of the rib cage, referred to as the thoracic spine constitutes your middle back. There are multiple reasons why you might have a pain in this region, and some of them overlap with the causes of pain in lower back in general.
Can my daily routine like sitting or walking cause lower back pain?
Yes, it can cause low back pain.
- When you walk, there is a certain rhythm followed by the muscles in our hips and pelvis region. When this gets disrupted, our spine starts moving unnaturally which causes sciatica and overexertion. As we step our foot forward, we are putting our body weight on the legs, which causes extra strain on the muscles connecting the legs to the upper body thus causing pain in our lower back.
- When you have to sit for long hours without taking a break, you are applying too much pressure on the discs which can be averted if you take a break to stretch your muscles in regular intervals.
- When you sleep, it is important that you maintain the natural alignment of the spine. Your hips, head and the shoulders should be in alignment, and your back is well supported. There are different ways to sleep, and it varies with individuals. While sleeping on your back is the right posture, ensuring that your back gets enough support will help with lower back pain.
Understanding the location of the pain is the first step to getting an effective treatment. Once you have the location pinpointed, then you can start looking for the other symptoms and pay attention to how your body behaves. Watch out for the red flags, like persistent pains or pain shooting up to the end of your legs. And, consult your doctor immediately for the right treatment.
Low Back pain does not just impact you physically. Chronic pain in the back can have an impact on your mental health as well. Keeping to a strict exercise regime and following proper posture with a healthy diet is the key to fighting lower back pain.