While you typically turn to your parents, your significant other, or the Internet for answers to your lower back pain, chances are everyone is giving you very different answers. Your mom is concerned you pulled a muscle, your spouse is convinced you just slept wrong, and according to the Internet, you have a rare form of cancer and only 72 hours to live.
Receiving all of these conflicting answers for pain in the lower back can be very frustrating, especially when at the end of the day – your back still hurts! Everyone is riddled with opinions on what the problem is and how you can solve it, but how do you know what your low back pain actually means?
To avoid accidentally further aggravating any pain, refrain from completing any exercises or home remedies until you’ve consulted a doctor. Until then, check out this list of what causes lower back pain.
1. Lumbar Herniated Disc
Your spine – the structure that runs down the center of your back – is classified into three separate sections: the cervical spine, the thoracic spine, and the lumbar spine. Put more simply, these are your neck, your mid-back, and your lower back. Throughout the spine you have what are called vertebral discs. These are structures that help absorb shock from the vertebrae, the bones that make up your spine.
Discs are formed a bit like a jelly doughnut. While their outside is rough and fibrous, their inside is soft and pliable. Activity such as heavy lifting or sudden twisting can cause a disc to herniate, meaning the jelly-like nucleus leaks through a tear in the outer layer. The material can irritate the surrounding nerve roots, causing pain and inflammation at the site of the herniated disc.
2. Lumbar Slipped Disc
This condition is similar to a herniated disc, as it involves the vertebral discs. When a disc slips, it moves out of its respective alignment. This new positioning can cause the disc to press on nerve roots, causing pain, tingling, and numbness at the sight of the slipped disc.
Running from the spinal cord, through the hips and buttocks, and branching down each leg, the sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. If the sciatic nerve is injured, or an area impacting the nerve such as a disc is injured, you will feel the symptoms of sciatica.
Sciatica can cause moderate to severe pain in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. It can also cause numbness and weakness, as well as pain that shoots down the legs. Sciatica typically affects those between 30 to 50 years old. However, regardless of age, an injury to the sciatic nerve can bring about sciatica-like symptoms. Pain in the lower left back will typically be accompanied by pain in the left leg, and pain in the lower right back will most likely be accompanied by pain in the right leg.
4. Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) is another condition that typically affects older individuals. When we’re young, healthy vertebral discs are full of water. As we age, these discs lose hydration and wear down. As the disc loses hydration, it loses its ability to absorb shock. Because of this, the disc transfers the force of the impact to the disc wall, which can develop tears, or can collapse completely. For those approaching their 40’s and 50’s, DDD is a one of the leading causes of lower back pain.
5. Spinal Stenosis
Spinal stenosis is a medical way of describing spinal narrowing. The spinal canal acts as a highway for a network of nerves, and it is home to many nerve roots. This narrowing of the nerve roots can cause numbness, pain, and restriction of range of motion. While spinal stenosis can occur at multiple levels, it is common in the lower back.
6. Facet Joint Dysfunction
Each disc in the lumbar spine has two facet joints behind it to support movement and flexibility. Healthy joints have cartilage between the bones, and are surrounded by a network of nerves. These joints can experience dysfunction on their own, or in conjunction with disc pain. Either way, those suffering from fact joint dysfunction will typically experience inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
Osteoarthritis is classified as degeneration of the joints. This typically is the result of wear and tear on the disc and facet joints, and normally affects older individuals. Osteoarthritis can cause pain, instability, inflammation, and spinal stenosis when it’s reached a high degree – though, typically you will have become aware of the condition prior to stenosis occurring.
Spinal osteoarthritis can affect the lumbar spine, as it is the point at which we bend and turn the most. It is slowly progressive, and symptoms will appear over time. This condition is also known as degenerative joint disease.
8. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Of course, this will not be a worry if you are male who does not have female reproductive organs. However, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that can affect a woman’s physical health, behavior, and emotions, before and during her menstrual cycle. Lower back pain is symptomatic of PMS, as is abdominal cramps and bloating, fatigue, and digestive issues such as constipation or diarrhea.
9. Poor Posture
You most likely didn’t expect your posture to be a leading reason for back pain. However, how you carry your body can greatly impact the pain – or lack of pain – that you feel. Incorrect posture can be placing too much pressure on the postural muscles of the back, causing great pain. As you attempt to adjust your body to handle your improper posture, you’re most likely worsening the pain in other areas, such as the shoulders or neck.
This is also why you may be feeling lower back pain on your right side, and not as much on your left. If you’re pitching forward or overextending solely the muscles on your right side, you will feel the effects of your improper posture there. Overall, poor posture can disrupt the natural alignment of the body, resulting in pain, discomfort, and inflammation.
10. Muscle Sprains and Strains
While we receive our structure from our spine, its our muscles and soft tissue that give us the freedom and strength to move. Improper lifting, rapid motion, or impact trauma can result in a muscle sprain or strain that can cause pain, muscle spasms, and inflammation in the lower back.
Likewise, the organs that are contained with the abdomen are supported and cradled by a network of muscle and soft tissue. A common cause of organ pain is muscles cramping or experiencing spasms, therefore tightening the tissue that is surrounding the organs. An organ can become rigid and compressed in response, and its nerve structures send pain impulses to the brain.
As a general rule of thumb, always visit a qualified doctor for lower back pain. Since the lower back receives a brunt of the stress of a day’s work, even sitting and laying down, it’s not uncommon for it to experience a degree of pain. However, your body should operate as a well-oiled machine. When pain in the lower back persists, listen to your mom, your spouse, and Google – go to a doctor.