Low back pain is a common problem that affects a large percentage of the population. Research estimates that up to 80% of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives.
With so many people being affected by this condition it is vital that we understand the underlying causes of low back pain in order to treat and prevent it effectively.
1. Muscle Strains and Sprains - A Major Cause Of Low Back Pain
One of the most common causes of low back pain is a muscle strain or sprain. Strains and sprains occur when the muscles or ligaments in the back are stretched or torn.
Typically a back strain refers to an injury to either the muscles or tendons of the back, while a back sprain usually refers to stretching or tearing of the ligaments. These types of injuries can be caused by a variety of activities, including lifting heavy objects, twisting, or bending.
Are Strains Worse Than Sprains?
People often wonder which is worse - a strain or a sprain. The reality is that it doesn’t make much of a difference. What is important is understanding how the injury happened, and making sure you get the appropriate treatment.
Both of these injuries are often caused by overusing your back muscles, excess force, poor posture, or a lack of physical activity.
2. Degenerative Disc Disease
Another common cause of low back pain is degenerative disc disease (DDD). DDD occurs when the spongy discs in the spine begin to deteriorate and to collapse. This deterioration generally leads to feelings of pain and stiffness.
The discs are very important as they act as cushions between the vertebrae and they help to absorb the shocks that our body experiences as we move throughout the day.
Shocks come in the form of walking, jumping, and a million other things that our bodies have to absorb.
As we age, these discs lose their ability to absorb shock and may become damaged which then puts pressure on the vertebrae in our spine and cause them to rub against each other, leading to even more deterioration, and to more pain.
A third cause of low back pain is osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a type of arthritis that affects the joints and is caused by the wear and tear of the cartilage that covers the ends of bones.
When osteoarthritis is found in the spine, individuals may find that their necks and backs are stiff and painful. Individuals sometimes experience weakness or numbness in the legs and arms although this is generally only if the OA is severe enough to affect the spinal nerves or spinal cord.
Lying down often brings relief to those who are suffering from spinal OA.
A fourth cause of low back pain is sciatica. Sciatica is a condition in which the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back to the legs, becomes compressed, or squashed. When this happens, people often experience pain, numbness, and weakness in their legs.
Sciatica can be caused by any of the following:
a bone spur,
a narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)
5. Psychological Factors
A fifth cause of low back pain is psychological factors. Stress, anxiety and depression have been shown to have a significant impact on the experience of pain.
Studies have found that chronic stress can lead to muscle tension, which can lead to pain in the back and other areas of the body. One study that was published in 2021 looked at data from approximately 10,000 individuals living in Korea with chronic low back pain.
The researchers found that, even after adjusting for all of the different factors that can impact low back pain, ‘severity of stress showed a significant positive association with chronic low back pain’.
Understanding The Underlying Causes Of Low Back Pain - How Can You Prevent Low Back Pain?
To prevent and manage low back pain, there are some relatively simple things that you can do. We also recognize that while we say these things are simple, they are not easy but with some help and motivation it may be possible to do many of them.
Ways To Manage Low Back Pain
1. Maintain a healthy weight
When our bodies are carrying excess weight it puts additional stress on our backs, leading to pain and discomfort. Losing some weight can help reduce the stress on the back and decrease the risk of pain.
2. Maintain good posture
Sitting for long periods of time can put a lot of stress on the back. Sitting with good posture can help reduce the stress on the back and decrease the risk of pain.
You can either set a timer to remind yourself to stand up or sit up straight at certain intervals, or you can try some of the tools like the Upright Go that can help notify you when your posture is poor.
3. Exercising regularly
Regular exercise can help to strengthen the muscles in the back, which, in turn, can help to support the spine and reduce the risk of pain. Additionally, regular exercise can help to improve flexibility, which can also help to reduce the risk of back pain.
4. Mindfulness of movements
Since many injuries are the result of tears, overloading, or repetitive movements, being aware of how you move can make a big difference to avoiding sprains and strains.
Avoid lifting heavy objects improperly, as well as avoid standing (or sitting) too long in the same position. Make sure that you take regular breaks and walk around.
5. Getting enough sleep
Lack of sleep can lead to a number of problems, including low back pain. By getting enough sleep, individuals can reduce the risk of back pain and improve overall health.
Low back pain is a very common problem that can be caused by a variety of factors, including muscle strain or sprain, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, sciatica, and psychological factors.
Understanding the underlying causes of low back pain is important in order to effectively treat and prevent it. Maintaining a healthy weight, maintaining good posture, exercising regularly, being mindful of movements, and getting enough sleep are all important ways that you can manage and prevent low back pain.