What are the common causes of lower back pain?

Pain in the lower back is one of the most common musculoskeletal issues that occurs in the United States. The condition can be caused by dozens of different circumstances. When evaluating lower back pain, it’s generally divided into two categories. One category is acute and temporary pain, while the other is chronic pain.

Acute pain in the lower back tends to be the result of some kind of injury. You might experience temporary pain without knowing what injury caused it. Temporary pain tends to resolve after a few days to a few weeks, and it doesn’t typically require medical treatment. You can use alternating heat and cold therapy, along with rest and moderate stretching.

A sprain or strain is by far the most common cause of pain in the lower back. A sprain is an injury to your ligaments, while a strain is an injury to your muscles or tendons. Strains are caused by muscles being stretched until they tear. With sprains, the ligaments connecting your bones together tear.

Muscle and ligament injuries in the lower back are both treated with the same conservative measures.

These are the most common scenarios that can lead to a strain or sprain in the lower back:

  • Lifting heavy objects by pulling up from your lower spine instead of supporting the weight with your arm muscles and knees
  • Twisting your spine instead of keeping your abdomen tensed and your core upright as you carry heavy objects
  • Slipping, falling, or otherwise experiencing a sudden movement that wrenches the lower back
  • Ongoing issues with posture leading to muscle fatigue and lack of support
  • Automobile accidents and other traumatic impacts
  • Sports injuries involving impacts or twisting motions

The pain levels will vary depending on the intensity of the tear. Most cases will resolve without needing treatment, but many people experience intense acute pain. Lower back injuries can also sometimes cause ongoing joint pain and fatigue following recovery because of the muscles being damaged or misaligned. Chiropractic treatment has been shown to help in these cases.

What Can Cause Chronic Low Back Pain?

Chronic low back pain occurs when the pain continues for longer than three months, which is the body’s typical longest time for healing. Pain that continues for this long isn’t being healed by the body the way a muscle or ligament injury would be. Ongoing chronic pain in the lower back tends to be related to your joints, nerve roots, or a disc issue.

These are the most common causes of chronic pain in your lower back:

  • Lumbar herniated disc – the inside of your lumbar disc breaks through its coating and irritates a nerve root with inflammatory proteins
  • Degenerative disc disease – a natural aspect of aging in which spinal discs become less hydrated and becomes weaker and more prone to damage
  • Facet joint dysfunction – issues with the facet joints in the lumbar spine, which can lead to nerve compression or irritation
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction – inflammation of the sacroiliac joint at the base of the spine
  • Osteoarthritis – the progressive wearing down of protective joint cushioning over time
  • Spondylolisthesis – a slipping of one vertebrae over the next
  • Spinal stenosis – a nerve root compression caused by spinal canal narrowing
  • Deformities like scoliosis or kyphosis – abnormal curvatures of the spine
  • Spinal dislocations or fractures – injuries after trauma that require medical treatment
  • Compression fractures – a sudden fracture brought on when the cylindrical vertebra caves in

All of these conditions can sometimes present with back pain. But they don’t always. Some people have signs of osteoarthritis that are measurable in diagnostic imaging, but they don’t experience any pain in the affected area. Others might have degenerative disc disease but experience no numbness or pain because the disc degeneration hasn’t led to nerve compression.

In rarer cases, lower back pain might be related to a tumor, infection, or autoimmune disease. Osteomyelitis is an infection in the spine that can lead to severe pain and life-threatening complications without treatment. Spinal tumors are most likely to appear in individuals who already have cancer elsewhere in the body. Multiple autoimmune diseases can cause pain in the back including fibromyalgia, Crohn’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis.

To schedule an evaluation and diagnosis of your lower back pain, give us a call at 205-637-1363.

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