How to Identify the Leading Causes of Chronic Lower Back Pain
Back pain is incredibly common — the majority of people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. However, it’s worth pointing out that acute back pain is much more common than chronic back pain, and each sort of problem will demand a different approach to diagnosis and treatment.
You might be tempted to write off lower back pain as a natural consequence of aging, but chronic pain is typically a sign that something deeper is to blame. Instead of struggling through the pain, learn the common causes of back pain and work toward a solution with the help of your doctor.
Muscle or Ligament Strain
Repetitive muscle strain can take a big toll on your body, and your back often bears the brunt of the damage. Repeated lifting, a sudden fall, or an awkward movement can strain back muscles immediately, but the effects last for days, weeks, or months.
Over-stretched or torn muscles can cause painful muscle spasms, and when a ligament is stretched or torn, a lumbar sprain results. Symptoms can range from a mild ache in the lower back to stabbing pain, and the inflamed area may be sore to the touch.
Your spine contains a series of bones (vertebrae), and a disc sits in each space between these bones. The disc is sturdy yet flexible, which helps it cushion and absorb shock, but sometimes it bulges out of its resting place between the vertebrae and presses on a spinal nerve.
Although not every bulging disc causes pain or discomfort, this condition can send severe pain down your buttock and leg via the sciatic nerve. In fact, your pain may be worse in your foot than it is in your back, and it’s typically constant and burning rather than dull and intermittent.
Degenerative Disc Disease
If your pain tends to move with you, there’s a good chance that a disc is beginning to degenerate, losing its ability to cushion bone and protect nerves. Not surprisingly, discs tend to degenerate with age, but people as young as 20 can begin to feel the uncomfortable effects, too.
There’s a good chance your pain is near constant, but you’ll notice it intensifies to extreme levels now and then. Sitting for a long stretch of time, bending or twisting might bring a sharp twinge, yet many people with degenerative disc disease find that walking or running can actually bring some relief.
While degenerating discs can make sitting difficult, a slipped vertebrae can make movement excruciating.
The condition known as isthmic spondylolisthesis usually begins in childhood, but you likely won’t notice the common symptoms until young adulthood: pain when bending backward, tired feeling in the legs (or numbness, due to sciatica), very tight hamstrings, and relief when sitting back or reclining. The pain comes from the vertebrae compressing the nerves in and around the disc below.
Osteoarthritis is an exceedingly common condition that typically hits after middle age and can cause problems in many joints, including the spine. The pain and inflammation comes on gradually, and as the cartilage in the spine breaks down more and more, you’ll probably find that your back stiffens, especially at the start and end of the day.
Too much activity will inflame the problem, and sometimes even touching the affected area can be painful. Although osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, there are measures you can take to stay mobile and flexible.