The Causes of Lower Back Pain

The Causes of Lower Back Pain


The US rates lower back pain as the most common health problem and one of the leading causes of physician visits.

Reports indicate that Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain. Back pain has been rated as the second most common neurological ailment in the United States, next to headache.

It has also been cited as the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missing work.

Causative Factors

Poor back-muscle tone, muscle tension or spasm, back sprains, tears in ligaments or muscles and joint problems are the most common causes.

With increasing age, bone density and soft tissue elasticity (ligaments/ tendons/ muscles) decreases. The intervertebral discs, the fibroelastic shock absorbers between adjacent vertebrae begin to loose their fluid and flexibility. This decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae.

Here we briefly discuss some of the specific causes of back pain.

A) Herniated Disc

A herniated disc (otherwise known as a slipped or ruptured disc) is a fragment of the intervertebral disc that has herniated sinto the spinal canal through a tear or a rupture.

The spinal canal has limited space, which is insufficient for the spinal nerve and the displaced herniated disc fragment. As a result, the disc presses on the spinal nerves and can produce pain. Characteristically patients have lower back pain. They can also have Sciatica, with associated pain radiating down the back and or front of the leg(s). The pain can also be associated with areas of numbness and pins and needles.

B) Collapsed Vertebra

Collapsed vertebrae are more common over the age of 60 years and are associated with a decrease in bone density, or osteoporosis. They can also be associated, more rarely, with the spread of cancerous disease or metastatic disease.

C) Spondylolisthesis

Also referred to as Spondylolysis, this condition is most prevalent in adolescent athletes. Pain typically emanates out of a stress fracture in one of the bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column.

D) Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is a form of arthritis that affects the lower back. Stiffness, soreness and swelling of the joints form the main causes of back pain.

E) Pregnancy

As pregnancy progresses the foetus and uterus increase in size, aring from the female pelvis. In the last trimester it is often quite noticeable. The expanded abdomen acts as a large weight at the front of the pregnant women which puts added strain on the lower spine. Lower back pain is very common, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

In addition during pregnancy there is an increase in the production of oestrogen and progesterone. These lead to increased ligament laxity which further exacerbates the lower back pain.

Other Causes

Other causes of mild or severe back pain include nerve or muscle irritation, bone lesions and injury/trauma to the spine.

Certain degenerative conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, viral infections, irritations to joints and discs, congenital abnormalities in the spine are also known to be the causes of lower back pain.

Lastly, lifestyle deformities such as obesity, stress, poor physical condition, inappropriate posture and poor sleeping positions are the other common causative factors.