Lower back pain is one of the most common health conditions in America and a leading causes of time away from work and lost productivity. In fact, an estimated 80% of us will experience back pain at some point.
While all ages are at-risk for suffering back pain, it becomes ever more likely as we age. That’s because gradual wear and tear takes its toll over time.
7 Common causes of lower back pain
1. Muscle sprains and strains. These can occur when you overstretch or possibly tear muscle fiber (strain) or ligament tissue (sprain).
Lifting heavy objects or not using good lifting techniques are two common causes of ligament sprains and muscle strains. But other causes can be any sudden movement, such as getting hit or changing direction when playing sports or trying to catch yourself from falling after slipping or tripping. But even things as seemingly simple as having bad posture or over-reaching for for an object can result in muscle strain and pain.
2. Herniated, bulging, slipped, or ruptured disc. The rubbery ‘discs’ that sit between each of our vertebrae work like cushioning shock absorbers in the event of impact and they protect nerves that run along and throughout the spine. If a disc develops a leak, however, the inner, jelly-like fluid can put pressure on nearby nerves to cause pain. (An example of this would be sciatica, where the sciatic nerve becomes compressed or irritated, causing pain to radiate down the buttocks and legs.)
Common causes of a herniated disc are the same ones that cause muscle strains: lifting heavy objects, not lifting properly, and sudden movements. But discs have an even greater chance of rupturing and losing water content as we age.
3. Degenerative disc disease. Another condition that becomes more common with age. That’s because our discs simply start wearing down and drying out over time. Genetics can be another cause, as can anything that puts a lot of stress on the spine, such as heavy lifting or a job that involves a lot of bending or twisting. Other contributors are smoking, obesity, poor posture, an accident or injury, and leading a sedentary lifestyle.
4. Osteoarthritis. A degenerative disease where protective cartilage in the joints begins to break down. This can trigger the development of painful bone spurs where bones rub together. Though it is most common in weight-bearing joints such as the knees and hips, it can result in lower back stiffness and pain when this happens to the small joints located between each vertebra (facet joints) or where the spine connects to the pelvis (sacroiliac joints).
Aging, genetics, joint injuries, and heavy use may also hasten the progression of osteoarthritis.
5. Spinal stenosis. This is a condition where the spinal canal begins to narrow, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. Often the result of osteoarthritis, it can also be present at birth or develop with aging.
6. Scoliosis or curvature of the spine (often in the shape of the letter “S” or “C”). Most people suffering from scoliosis were born with the condition, though it can develop during adolescent growth spurts. And, because it can affect posture, scoliosis can lead to back pain.
While genetics and abnormal spine development are two possible causes of scoliosis, in some cases, what causes it remains unknown.
7. Accidents or injuries. Collisions or physical trauma can result in fractures, sprains, or other injuries that can cause lower back pain. For proper diagnosis and treatment, it is important to seek medical attention for trauma or fall-related back pain.
Of course, these are just general lower back pain causes and descriptions. Cases can vary greatly. But if you or someone you know is experiencing long-lasting or severe low back pain, please seek professional medical advice for a proper diagnosis and treatment options.
Can a chiropractor care help lower back pain?
In many cases, spinal adjustments, soft tissue manipulation, and other chiropractic treatments are safe, non-invasive, and effective options for managing pain, stiffness, discomfort, and other symptoms, relieving muscle tension, reducing pressure on discs, healing faster, and improving range of motion. In many cases, the chiropractor will work in conjunction with the physician or other health care provider and the success of chiropractic treatments can vary–depending on the individual, causes, and degree of injury.
10 Back health tips
1. Get on a regular exercise program that encourages flexibility, develops core strength, improves overall body conditioning, and helps to prevent injuries. Examples of back injury prevention exercises include:
“The Big 3” Core Exercises
Overall body conditioning
Brisk walking and swimming
2. Maintain a healthy body weight since carrying excess weight puts excessive strain on your back.
3. Be mindful of good posture when standing, sitting, and walking. Hunched shoulders with your head out front again put extra strain on your spine, which can lead to back pain. Is your work station ergonomically designed? If you’re not sure, here are some tips for setting up your workspace properly.
4. Use good lifting technique and call for assistance if needed. Proper lifting technique, with bent knees and a straight back, assures that it’s your legs–and not your back–that do the lifting.
5. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Good hydration helps keep your discs flexible and provides adequate cushioning for the vertebra.
6. Don’t smoke. Smoking has been found to accelerate degenerative disc disease.
7. Be mindful to avoid jerky motions, falls, or impact accidents. Warm up before and cool down after participating in sports or any physical activity.
8. Invest in a good bed mattress and pillows. These will help hold your spine in a neutral position as you sleep.
9. Learn and practice skills to better manage stress. Chronic stress can lead to muscle tension, which can again lead to back pain.
10. If you have an desk job or are pretty sedentary during the day, get up to to move around regularly. Look away from your work, get up to stretch, or go for a walk when possible to increase energy, get blood circulating, improve posture, and avoid muscle stiffness and fatigue.