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What Causes Lower Back Pain? How to Prevent and Improve for Better Health

Lower back pain causes can be obvious, but sometimes, they are not. Know how to prevent it.


A woman seated in front of a computer touching her back in a sign of pain.

Suffering from back pain? You're not alone. Millions of people endure lower back pain in the U.S. each year. The National Foundation for the Treatment of Back Pain estimates that 80% of Americans suffer from a bout of low back pain in their lives, while 40% report that they have had about within the past year. And back pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work. What are the causes behind this problem? How can someone avoid it? If crippled by back pain, what is the best way to return to a normal and active lifestyle?


Let’s review some important aspects of lower back pain.


 

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Classification of Back Pain


We can classify back pain in many ways. One way to classify back pain is as mechanical and radicular.


1. Mechanical back pain refers to the pain that comes from an injury to the muscles, joints, ligaments, and bones that are close to the spine.


2. Radicular pain is the pain that is experienced when there is an impinged spinal nerve.


Types of Back Pain


The type of pain that you can have in your lower back will depend on the cause. For example, your back pain can feel like a dull constant pain, or it can be sharp, burning, or stinging. The pain also can be localized or you can feel it going from your back to one or both legs. Your pain can also be constant or intermittent. And it can be triggered by some specific activities or movements like bending, twisting your torso, when standing up, sitting, rolling to your side when laying down, etc.


Mode of Injury


Most of the time, the cause of back pain is an injury. For example, sports injuries, like skiing, weightlifting, or even playing golf. Falls are another common way that people get their back injured, as well as motor vehicle accidents, and lifting heavy objects. And, doing sudden movements, like twisting, can leave you with an injured back, too.


Risk Factors

Three models of the spine, seen from the front, back, and lateral.

Certain things make you more susceptible to suffering back pain. For example, having weak muscles, or preexisting structural deformities in your spine like scoliosis, spondylosis, or past back surgeries. People that are overweight or obese, the elderly population, and those with certain diseases like cancer are at a higher risk for back pain, too. Also, studies have found that people suffering from depression and anxiety also are vulnerable to experiencing more pain.


Causes of Back Pain


There are multiple causes of Back Pain. This list contains only some of the most common causes of Back Pain.


1. Muscle or ligament strain

2. Bulging or ruptured disc

3. Arthritis

4. Traumatic injuries

5. Cancer

6. Infection

7. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

8. Bladder or kidney infection

9. Sciatica

10. Shingles

11. Skeletal abnormalities

12. Ulcerative colitis

13. Pregnancy


How to know if the Back Pain is serious?


Your back pain might feel minor, but there can be hidden issues that make them serious. Learning how to spot if your back pain or injury is serious will help you manage your health rather than ignore it and produce further injury. Therefore, understanding how to determine the seriousness of a back injury is important to recovery and return to work.


Some signs can point that something more serious is happening with your back and you should seek medical help. For example:


1. Numbness, Tingling, or Weakness

2. Having pain for more than a week

3. Fever

4. If you cannot control your bladder or your bowel

5. Unexplained weight loss

6. Worsening of pain

7. Blood on your stool or your urine

8. Pain in your abdomen


A woman touching her back that is in pain

Treatment


When you visit your healthcare provider, make sure to describe your pain by providing as many details as you can, so he/she can give you an accurate and fast diagnosis, and treatment can start immediately. After your diagnosis, your doctor will offer treatment that will vary depending on the reason for your back pain. The treatment can be surgical or non-surgical. Within the non-surgical treatments, your healthcare provider can offer you medications to help ease the pain, physical therapy, or local injections. You can also limit or decrease the amount of food that increases inflammation. Or they can recommend you alternative medicine treatment options like acupuncture, massage, or nerve stimulation.


Prevention


You cannot prevent every single cause of back pain, but there is a good number of them that are preventable. Here is a list of things that can help you avoid back pain:


1. Be mindful of your surroundings. Look at the surface where you are walking or running to avoid falls.


2. Wear proper shoes. For example, if you are going for a trail walk or run, don’t wear slippery shoes, wear walking or running shoes.

A jogger wearing tennis shoes.

3. Protect your back. Wear a lumbar support belt to support your back and avoid excessive stretching that can cause an injury.


4. Lift objects correctly. Do not bend to lift an object from the floor, instead go down by bending your knees, pick the object, and then go back up.

A man bending his knees to lift a heavy weight.

5. Do not over-stretch. Whether you are doing stretch exercises or any other type of activity, be careful. Overstretching can injure your back.


6. Take a break. Doing repetitive movements can injure your back. Instead, take breaks, and do not overwork your back.

A group of construction working resting

7. Exercise. When you exercise, your bones and muscles strengthen, which gives your back much better support.


8. Maintain a good posture. Seating or standing in a good posture will prevent pain and injuries on your entire back.


9. Sleep on your side. Sleeping sideways helps to reduce the pressure of all your organs laying over your back for a prolonged time.

a woman sleeping on her side

10. Watch your weight. Maintaining a healthy weight not only will help you minimize the risks of certain conditions like cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but it puts less effort on your back to support and keep you balanced.


11. Avoid smoking. Studies have shown that people who smoke, as well as former smokers, suffer more back pain than non-smokers.

A Non-smoking sign

12. Supplement your diet with calcium and vitamin D. You need to make sure that the bones of your spine are healthy to avoid conditions like osteoporosis, which can lead to fractures, and therefore, back pain.


While the most common cause of lower back pain is due to strain or pressure on the vertebrae, other causes include inflammation, tumors, and fractures. Therefore, to make a good assessment of whether your lower back pain is serious, you should have a complete physical examination by a qualified medical provider who knows how to make a differential diagnosis between simple and serious causes of lower back pain. The most important part of dealing with back pain is finding an answer so that you can function and continue enjoying life as much as possible while taking care of your body. And if you don’t have back pain, be proactive and take measures to prevent it.


As always follow a healthy lifestyle and come back for the next topic.

 

References

  1. Longitudinal association between pain, and depression and anxiety over four years. ScienceDirect. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022399914003791 Accessed on June 15, 2022.

  2. Association between smoking and back pain in a cross-section of adult Americans. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5081254/ Accessed on June 15, 2022.


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