The Many Faces Of Lower Back Pain

Back pain is the most common musculoskeletal condition affecting Americans today. Lower back pain, any pain resonating at the base of the spine, affects almost 8% of the population. These figures are expected to rise significantly in the coming years. Lower back pain can restrict everyday movement, work, and social activities if left untreated. The reasons for lower back pain are countless but can usually be narrowed down to spinal, muscular, and nerve issues. At any stage, back pain sufferers can take action to get relief.

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Dissecting the lower back

The lower spine consists of 5 bones called vertebrae, which protect the spinal cord. Between each pair of vertebrae are fibrous discs. These discs facilitate the movement of each vertebra and help with shock absorption. Nerves branch out from the spinal cord through spaces in each vertebrae called the neural foramen. Furthermore, each vertebra connects to the other with facet joints and ligaments, allowing the spine to bend. Finally, several muscles attach to the vertebrae and wrap around the lower back for added protection. Here are 3 common reasons for lower back pain.

1. Is it a disc issue?

The intervertebral discs bear the weight of the upper body and spine. These are therefore prone to damage. Discs contain liquid like water and, over time, can lose hydration. As a result, the disc loses size and strength, creating a condition called degenerative disc disease. In other cases, the inner nucleus of the disc can bulge out of place. Herniated and degenerative discs press on nearby nerves causing lower back pain and stiffness. The irritation of nerves leads to further inflammation and pain that radiates down the legs.

2. Weakened lower back muscles

Doctors can link most cases of back pain to weakened back muscles. As the muscles become underused, there is increased difficulty in holding the spine in place. Added pressure goes onto the joints, discs, and nerves. Therefore, pain can happen when someone then decides to activate the back muscles for physical activity. The lack of movement also causes muscles to become stiff, causing pain even when stationary. A sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest reasons for back pain, with the average American sitting over 7 hours daily. As a result, muscles can weaken over time, leading to chronic pain.

3. Possible joint dysfunction

Facet joints connect the vertebrae and help with movement, but at the base of the spine lies the sacroiliac (SI) joint. This powerful joint connects the spine to the pelvis and helps support the weight of the entire upper body. Due to overuse, for instance, in highly physical jobs, this joint can become inflamed. Doctors may also uncover sacroiliac joint dysfunction, where the SI joint does not move properly, leading to pain.

What can you do about your pain?

The first thing a patient with acute or chronic lower back pain should do is see a doctor or spinal specialist as soon as possible. Delaying the issue can lead to more severe conditions. The doctor can help with treatment, including pain management and physical therapy. Exercise is also essential. Strengthening the back muscles can reduce the chances of chronic conditions. Start with brisk walks, then move to doctor-recommended strength exercises. If these options fail, a surgeon can recommend surgery for long-term relief.

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