An astounding 80% of the population will experience lower back pain at some point during their lifetimes. Back pain is one of the most frequently reported health issues in the United States. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’ve had or are currently enduring the unpleasant symptoms of lower back pain.
What is lower back pain?
In simple terms, lower back pain is defined as symptoms including pain and discomfort that are present above the thighs and below the mid-back. There are three basic designations for lower back pain: acute pain, subacute pain and chronic pain. Each of these signifies the duration for which the pain has been experienced.
In the case of acute lower back pain, it is pain in your lower back that happens quickly and may last a few days to a few weeks. This is typically due to a spontaneous injury such as over-exertion or a mechanical issue, such as twisting or lifting a heavy object incorrectly.
Subacute lower back pain, however, occurs and is symptomatic for 4 to 12 weeks. As with acute back pain, most cases of subacute back pain are due to mechanical issues, but the symptoms don’t resolve as quickly and can be somewhat disruptive for the duration.
This, of course, leaves chronic lower back pain, which is recurrent and lasts for 12 weeks or longer. Chronic lower back pain causes can run the gamut from injuries to degenerative disorders. An experienced spine surgeon or orthopedic doctor is an essential part of determining causes and helping you find the right treatments.
The causes of lower back pain
There are many lower back pain causes. Some are common while others occur very rarely. Below is a list of the numerous reasons lower back pain might be present. If you are experiencing lower back pain, it’s important to see your doctor or surgeon to ensure you receive a proper diagnosis and treatment.
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. Two types exist: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Both types can affect the joints or spaces between the vertebrae, resulting in lower back pain and discomfort.
Abdominal aortic aneurysms
Not particularly common, an abdominal aortic aneurysm can develop when the blood vessel that supplies blood to your legs, abdomen and pelvis is enlarged. It can place pressure on nerves, causing symptoms of pain.
Cauda equina syndrome
Rare but serious, cauda equina syndrome occurs when the contents of a ruptured disc enter the spinal canal, compressing the sacral and lumbar nerve roots, resulting in back pain and can even lead to the loss of bowel and bladder control.
Endometriosis only affects women. It is caused by the growth of endometrial tissue (the tissue that lines the uterus) outside of the uterine structure. Sometimes it can grow on nerve sheaths or even grow in between vertebrae, putting pressure on nerve roots and the spinal cord.
Fibromyalgia is considered a chronic pain syndrome. It results in fatigue and unexplained muscle pain. Often times, if you’re suffering from fibromyalgia, you may also experience lower back pain.
Herniated or ruptured discs are at the top of the list as one of the most common causes for lower back pain. The discs that provide cushioning and support between vertebrae can become brittle or damaged, allowing the inner contents to “leak” out into the spinal canal, causing compression of the nerves or spinal cord in that area.
Although an uncommon cause of lower back pain, infections such as osteomyelitis (bone infection), discitis (infection of the intervertebral discs) and sacroiliitis (infection of the sacral joints) can cause pain and discomfort.
Intervertebral disc degeneration
Perhaps the most common lower back pain causes, this condition is usually the result of the normal aging process. Wear and tear on the discs causes them to lose their flexibility and height, minimizing their ability to provide a cushion between the vertebrae. This, in turn, results in back pain.
Kidney stones occur when insoluble minerals such as calcium form a “stone” in the kidneys. Due to the placement of your kidneys they can cause you pain in your lower back.
Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bone becomes less dense over time, predisposing the vertebrae to fractures which can lead to back pain.
Radiculopathy is the result of pressure on a nerve root due to compression, injury or inflammation that results in pain or numbness that can radiate to other parts of the body, including your lower back. Spinal stenosis or ruptured discs can contribute to radiculopathy.
In simple terms, spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal, causing pressure to be put on the spinal cord and nerve roots. It can be due to the growth of bone spurs, ruptured discs or a number of other factors. If the narrowing is occurring in lower vertebrae, lower back pain may be experienced.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition where one of the vertebrae in your spine slips out of place and pinches the nerves as they exit the spinal column, causing pain.
Spondylitis is an inflammation of the vertebrae that is often linked to back pain.
If you have been experiencing back pain that hasn’t gotten better, it may be time to make an appointment with your doctor. There are several highly qualified spinal surgeons and specialists in the Tri-state area that can help determine your lower back pain causes and aid you in finding the most effective treatment options.