Health Tip: Common Causes Of Lower Back Pain
Because the lower back carries most of the body’s weight and the waist is a pivot point for turning, the lower back is particularly vulnerable to injury that leads to pain. Among the most common causes of lower back pain are strains andsprains, herniated discs, spinal stenosis, facet joint syndrome, and osteoarthritis.
Muscle Strains & Sprains
The most common cause of back pain is an injury to a muscle or tendon (strain) or a ligament (sprain). These injuries can result from a variety of factors including improper lifting or twisting, being overweight, poor posture, sleeping in an awkward position, or hauling around a heavy handbag, briefcase, or golf bag.
Some strains or sprains cause immediate pain. In other cases soreness and stiffness are delayed. Sometimes an injured muscle knots up (spasm). This is your body’s way of preventing further damage by making you stop what you are doing.
- Strains: In a mild strain, there will be tenderness, and movement will cause pain and stiffness for a few days. With a moderate strain, the pain and stiffness may last one to three weeks. In a severe strain, the muscle may not function at all.
- Sprains: In a mild sprain, the area will be sore but not likely to reduce mobility too much. In a moderate sprain, the area will be painful and difficult to move. There may be swelling and bruising as well. A severe sprain is very painful and may severely inhibit movement.
Sometimes a disc will rupture (herniate) simply as a result of normal wear and tear. Other times a muscle strain or other injury results in a ruptured disc. When the rupture causes the disc to bulge out and press on one of the nerves that branch out from the spine, it causes pain.
The sciatic nerve, which runs from the spine down the leg, is the nerve most likely to be affected. Pressure against this nerve causes sciatica—a sharp, shooting pain in the lower back, buttocks, and leg. (If the ruptured disc is higher in the spine, the pain may be centred in the neck.)
Ordinary movements, including sitting or bending over, may be difficult. In severe cases, pain can be so intense that even simple movements may be nearly impossible. Significant weakness in both legs or pain that is accompanied by loss of bladder or bowel control may be a sign of a serious problem that requires immediate medical attention.
Facet Joint Syndrome
The facet joints connect the vertebrae and permit the spine to flex. Nerve roots pass through these joints to connect the spinal cord to the arms, legs, and other parts of the body. When an injury or arthritis causes these joints to swell, the result is pain and stiffness. People with facet joint syndrome often lose the ability to bend their spine and they may have to turn their whole body to look left or right.
The specific symptoms depend on where along the spine the affected joint is located. If the joint is in the neck, it can cause headaches and difficulty moving the head. If it is in the back, it can cause pain in the lower back, hips, or thighs.
Typically, the pain is worst the first thing in the morning, lessens through the middle of the day, then increases late in the day. Twisting or extending the spine may increase the intensity of the pain.
Stenosis is a narrowing of an opening or passageway. When the space around the spinal cord and nerve root narrows, it is called spinal stenosis. This can be due to arthritis or bone overgrowth, and it can lead to pinching or pressing on a nerve.
Spinal narrowing doesn’t always cause pain, but when it does, the most common complaints include:
- Pain or cramping in the legs
- Pain radiating through the back and hip that usually affects only one side and worsens with sitting
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness in the leg or foot
- Pain in the neck or shoulders that may extend to the arm or hand
People with severe stenosis in the lower (lumbar) spine may develop the habit of leaning forward in a stooped position to relieve the symptoms. Some severe cases lead to the loss of bladder or bowel control.
Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects joints. When osteoarthritis occurs in the spine, it causes the slow deterioration of the cartilage that cushions the facet joints. Without the proper cushioning, the facet joints scrape against each other, causing back pain and stiffness.
Pain, stiffness, and loss of flexibility may affect the neck and back. Pain usually appears after overuse or following a period of inactivity. A change in the weather may also bring on pain.