Common Back Pain Causes
With contributions from Marlene.
This morning, I woke up with an aching lower back. My lower back has been hurting for the better part of the past month.
As a woman in my mid-30s, I’ve had my fair share of back pain over the years. I’ve carried an almost nine-pound baby to 41 weeks gestation. I have worked several years as a floor nurse, lifting patients when I probably shouldn’t. I spent years as a dancer before my high school graduation.
You could say that I’ve had my fair share of back injuries – and I'm not alone.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, back pain is the single leading cause of disability – half of Americans admit to having back pain yearly, and 80% will have back pain at some point in their lives.
And back pain is costly – the American Chiropractic Association estimates that low-back pain “costs Americans at least $50 billion in health care costs each year—add in lost wages and decreased productivity and that figure easily rises to more than $100 billion.” If you’re a back-pain sufferer, chances are you can relate – emergency room visits with imaging tests, prescriptions for muscle relaxants and excuse notes for work, am I right? I know I’ve been there.
Types of Back Pain
It is important to differentiate the various types of back pain.
Acute pain means that the is short-term, typically lasting only a few days to a few weeks. Most back pain is acute. When back pain is acute, it resolves with self-care and there is no loss of function after the pain goes away.
Subacute pain is pain that lasts four to 12 weeks.
Chronic pain is pain that lasts longer than 12 weeks. Unfortunately, chronic back pain can occur even when an injury is treated; approximately 20% of people who sustain an acute injury will go on to develop chronic pain. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, “In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain, but in other cases, pain persists despite medical and surgical treatment.”
Causes of Back Pain
There are many causes of back pain, and this article will cover the most common and uncommon causes of back pain. If you have back pain that is concerning to you, you should discuss the pain with your healthcare provider.
Here are some common back pain causes:
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) reports that men and women between 30 and 55 years of age have the highest incident of back problems due to a combination of risk factors that tend to present as a person reaches mid-life. By the time a person reaches middle age, bone strength, muscle tone and muscle elasticity begin to decline.
Also, the spinal discs are less flexible, which makes them unable to cushion the vertebrae of the spine as well as they once did. Back pain with leg discomfort often occurs as this degeneration makes the spinal canal narrow.
Another common cause of low back pain with associated leg discomfort is weight. People who are overweight have to carry around excessive mid-section pounds, which pull the pelvis forward and create low back stress.
The sciatica that is associated with low back pain occurs when there is a herniated disc or pinched nerve that is directly associated with the weight.
Another reason many people suffer from chronic back pain is due to lack of exercise or a sedentary lifestyle. This leads to increased stiffness and weak muscles. Also, people who sit or lay around often miss out on other benefits of exercise, such as increased blood flow that leads to nourishment to the muscles, ligaments, soft tissues, and even spinal discs. The discs that are not often nourished begin to degenerate and get dry.
Many people do not understand that posture can affect the back in several ways. Back pain with leg discomfort is a common occurrence for people who sit in office chairs for long hours.
Also, slouching down or sitting in a forward position will overstretch the spinal ligaments and put strain on the discs of the spine. This incorrect posture, when combined with poor workplace ergonomics, will contribute to persistent, recurring back issues.
Sprains and Strains
Just like you can sprain or strain a wrist, knee, or ankle – you can sprain or strain your back!
A sprain involves the stretching or tearing of the ligaments. A back sprain is most likely to occur after a fall or a sudden blow. These move the back out of its normal range of motion.
A strain is an injury to the muscles and tendons. A back strain is most likely to occur due to twisting or pulling, or due to improper lifting. Those with chronic back pain may have a chronic strain from overuse or a repetitive movement.
How common are back sprains and strains? Strains are more common than you think – next to headaches, back issues are the most common reason for patients to visit their healthcare providers!