Health & Wellness Articles

What's Really Making Your Back Hurt?

The Top 5 Causes of Lower Back Pain

507SHARES
Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors hear from their patients. In fact, studies show that more than 80% of Americans will suffer from at least one episode of back pain during their lifetime. Back pain can range from mildly annoying to completely debilitating depending on the cause and severity of the symptoms. 
 
So what really causes back pain? The answer is complex, but what we do know is the following people are at a greater risk of lower back pain: 
  • Adults between the ages of 30 and 55.
  • People who smoke. (Researchers theorize that smoking may decrease blood flow to intervertebral discs which can lead to accelerated cell death.)
  • Adults who had episodes of low back pain as teens.
  • People whose occupational activities require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, etc. 
  • Those with a history of depression, anxiety or insomnia. (These conditions may affect a person’s ability to deal with pain.) 
Beyond these risk factors, there are a variety of problems that cause lower back pain. Here are the five most common causes of back pain—and what you can do about it. 
 
Strains or Sprains to Back Muscles
Strains (injuries to a muscle or tendon) and sprains (injuries to a ligament) are the most common causes of back pain. Moving suddenly, twisting or lifting heavy objects can cause microscopic tears in the muscles, tendons or ligaments in your back. Depending on the severity of the tear, this can cause mild to severe pain that comes on immediately or soon after an activity such as heavy lifting. The lower back area can be sore to the touch and achy, and muscle spasms can also occur.
 
Treatment:  Strains and sprains often heal on their own with home remedies, such as rest, ice and/or heat, gentle stretching and anti-inflammatory medication. Ice is generally used to reduce inflammation and swelling, while heat can help reduce muscle spasms. However, if you can’t walk more than four steps without significant pain, can’t move the affected area, or have numbness, you should see a doctor right away.
 
Degenerated Spinal Discs
Spinal discs are soft, fluid-filled "sacs" located between each vertebra of the spine. They provide a cushion for the vertebrae, helping absorb impact and shock. Over time, the discs can degenerate or wear out, especially in the lumber (lower back) region. Some disc degeneration is part of the normal aging process. Other disc issues can be caused by injury or trauma to the back. The wearing down of intervertebral discs causes chemical and physical changes within the discs that can lead to inflammation and nerve-related pain, usually contained in the lower back region and not extending into the arms or legs. It is usually brought on by activities that compress the spine, such as bending forward from the waist, sneezing, coughing or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Often, it is relieved by a change in position such as standing up or lying down.     
Continued ›
Page 1 of 3   Next Page ›
507SHARES

Advertisement -- Learn more about ads on this site.

More Great Features

Connect With SparkPeople

Subscribe to our Newsletters

About The Author

Jen Mueller Jen Mueller
Jen received her master's degree in health promotion and education from the University of Cincinnati. A mom and avid marathon runner, she is a certified personal trainer, certified health coach and advanced health & fitness specialist. See all of Jen's articles.

Member Comments

  • good info. Thanks! - 3/23/2013 7:36:48 AM
  • Just had back surgery Feb 1, 2013. I had been in chronic pain for years but put surgery on the back burner due to fear and money. I should have had the surgery done years ago!!! To wake up then go to bed with no pain in between is indeed a blessing. DH had his second surgery last May, (he had another 20 years ago)........it is ALL about taking care of what takes care of you!!! Learn to use those legs. If it's too heavy.....LET IT BE!!! Ain't worth it. Men think they are indestructible...
    ......well ok, some of us women do to. Take care people and don't abuse the body........it can be a fierce pain to be reckoned with. - 3/21/2013 11:33:00 AM
  • Be careful with the hot showers and baths. If you are experiencing pain because of muscle tension, the heat will help. If you are experiencing back pain due to joint problems, the heat will make it worse - you should use ice packs instead. - 3/21/2013 9:53:12 AM
  • I have always leaned back at about a 135 degree angle in my chair because it takes the tension off my back and neck. I have some pinched nerves in my spine and leaning back like this really makes a difference. When I am sitting up straight working I find that I am tense and my neck and shoulders really hurt. - 3/21/2013 9:06:39 AM
  • Thank you for a great article. I can attest to the fact that stress causes any back pain at all to increase in addition to stiffness in your entire back. A friend taught me about EFT, which I won't explain here, and it is helpful for pain reduction as well as stress reduction. And WATER, believe it or not, is the best pain medication on earth. - 3/21/2013 8:40:09 AM
  • I had back surgery on 2 discs....sitting all day, working thru lunch, and long commutes all contributed to a bad back. It isn't enough to get some exercise before or after work. Sitting all the time is tough on the back. Getting up and taking breaks to stretch and move around is good for your back, your circulation, and your mind. - 3/21/2013 8:15:23 AM
  • RAYRAY2412
    A diastasis can cause lower back pain as well. I'd advise everyone to check themselves for this problem. Diastasis Recti is a separation of the inner most abdominals. The transverse abdominus. This wraps around your whole body to your Spine like a band between your rib cage and hips. If it is separated where it meets the linea alba it gives your organs as well as your back a weak support system. This causes organs to protrude and gives you weaker core and back.. Look into it more on tuplertechnique.c
    om for further help. - 3/21/2013 3:16:29 AM
  • MARTY32M
    The article mentions women, but I think we have sexual equality here. I used to put my back out every few years, causing severe pain and distorted posture until it healed. It dawned on me that I got sudden severe back pain only if I neglected weight lifting for a year or two. The exercise that keeps my back strong is, believe it or not, straight leg dead lifts. My knees are only slightly bent, and I lift the weight from the floor, not with my legs, but with my back, not too much weight at first, and with no twisting or side bending. I don't spare my back, I strengthen it. - 8/5/2012 9:13:18 PM
  • TAZZYANNA
    Don't let a chiropractor crack or pop your back.. I didn't have back problems tell I let them. After two back surgeries and a possible third. I will not let them touch me. Message is great if you can afford them. But I have found more people that has had back surgery had a chiropractor pop or crack thier back. So let this be a warning. - 7/31/2012 12:34:45 AM
  • LILLIANER1
    Regarding the comment about large breasts causing back pain. They also cause shoulder pain and because of this I was able to have a breast reduction and my insurance paid everything. - 7/30/2012 4:36:00 PM
  • DLFROE
    The article contains a lot of good and practical information. However, I found it missing what I believe is one important word of advice. The root of most ... not all ... back pain are your feet!

    Your feet are like the foundation of a building. If there is a problem at the foundation, the building over time will crumble and fall. If your feet are not supporting your body properly, over time your skeleton will go out of alignment and thus put strain and undue pressures throughout the rest of your body.

    To correct my foundation I purchased a pair of "real" orthotics! Not the junk orthotics you can buy over-the-counter but "bio-engineered ergonomic" orthotics made just for me.

    Ever since I have been wearing them I have NO lower back pain ... my shoulder blade no longer starts hurting in the middle of the afternoon and I have found I can be on my feet literally all day and go home with plenty of energy to still do the family things.

    Even if there are other issues with your back, I would highly suggest talking to your doctor about a pair of "real" custom orthotics. After all, what do you have to lose? They won't hurt you or make your condition any worse. But, they could possibly ease some of ... if not all ... the pain you may be experiencing like mine does for me!
    - 7/30/2012 2:02:47 PM
  • I am surprised they didn't mention weak abdominal and core muscles as a cause of back pain. - 7/30/2012 12:05:22 PM
  • DOGMOM12
    I have exercised regularly for years. At age 63, after having increasing back pain for a few months, I finally found out I have slight scoliosis and spondylolisthesis
    . I was told that there isn't much I can do to make it better but I now work on core muscle strength much more and it has helped with pain management. I don't know how long I've had this, but possibly since birth, and it has just become worse. Careful workouts with a therapist or trainer have been great. Still have some pain but much more manageable. - 7/30/2012 11:38:51 AM
  • SHMANKERSOX
    I have had a wonderful experience studying Alexander Technique. I took a full year of bi-weekly classes. At the beginning and into the first 3 months of taking the class, I had intense back pain. The changes I've made have not only reduced my back pain- it's gone! It's really an amazing thing, I think everyone should check it out! - 7/30/2012 11:07:31 AM
  • BOBINVA
    One more cause of lower back pain and scatia is tight ham strings. The muscles in the back of your legs to have a connection. I have a genetic predisposition to short ham strings. I have to routinely stretch them or I will have bouts with back pain. My grandfather had this as well. If you have trouble with scatia and back pain (mine is L5) try stretching your ham strings. - 7/30/2012 10:17:29 AM

x Lose 10 Pounds by January 9! Get a FREE Personalized Plan