What Causes Lower Back Pain
By Dr Scott Walton, DC
Over 80% of the population suffers from low back pain at one time in their life … But what should you do if you suddenly get hit with low back pain? The most important thing is to take action!
Research has shown that the results for treatment of low back pain is dramatically better if the problem is assessed, diagnosed, and treated within 0-2wks time after the onset of the symptoms. This means that one of the worst things that you can do is ignoring the pain and hoping that it resolves on its own.
As a chiropractor, we undergo countless hours of training to learn how to assess, diagnose, and treat your back pain. We take the time to find out the root cause of your low back pain, in order to treat it with a unique and specific care plan.
To help you understand more about lower back pain, here are 5 of the most common causes of low back pain:
To understand how disc degeneration and disc herniation causes low back pain we first need to know some anatomy about our backs.
Your spine consists of individual bones called vertebrae. These vertebrae stack together to make your spinal column. The spinal column supports your skeletal structure, protects the spinal cord, and still allows free motion of the back. In between every stacked vertebra is an “intervertebral disc”, these discs are made of cartilage and act as shock absorbers for the spine.
Disc degeneration is the breakdown of these cartilaginous discs within the spine, and frequently occurs as the base of the neck and the low back. If the integrity of the disc becomes so poor that it no longer can support the stressed put onto the spine, it can herniate or rupture.
A herniation or rupture is when parts of the disc extrude or bulge outward into the surrounding space. But how does this translate to low back pain?
Not only are there pain receptors within the outer edge of the intervertebral disc itself, which can cause pain, but many bundles of nerves that travel out of the spinal column to the rest of the body can be found in the surrounding space as well. When the disc ruptures and pushes outward against the adjacent nerve bundles, compression of the nerves translate to pain.
Usually disc herniation is linked with some sort of trauma, but that can range from something as severe as a car accident to something as mild as bending over to pick up a bag of groceries. The pain is sharp, and radiates from the spine into the legs or buttocks, and can even travel as low as the feet. Sciatica, for example, is a specific type of radiating pain that can be traced back to a herniated disc in the lower back.
Disc herniation can be extremely painful and debilitating and can cause other symptoms like numbness and tingling in the legs and feet, loss of muscle strength, loss of feeling in the toes or sections of the skin.
Prevention is your best friend when dealing with disc herniation, as treatment can be long and if you don’t remain diligent with your care relapse is almost certain. The best ways to prevent disc herniation is to avoid heavy lifting, use good lifting technique, and keep your core strength up.
Stenosis means the narrowing of a passage or body. When it occurs within the spine it is referring to the narrowing of the spinal canal, which houses the spinal cord.
When there isn’t enough space within the spinal canal for the spinal cord is squished, kind of like pushing a large straw into a smaller opening, the straw becomes kinked and pinched much like the spinal cord.
Pinching and kinking of the spinal cord in the lower back region can cause similar symptoms to a disc herniation, such as numbness and tingling, low back pain, and loss of muscle strength.
The biggest difference between the two is location, spinal stenosis is occurring within the spinal column as opposed to outside. What this means is that spinal stenosis will affect both legs, while disc herniation will typically just affect one.
The narrowing of the spinal canal can be caused by all sorts of different health conditions, but sometimes can be caused by something simple like a spinal misalignment. Spinal stenosis can also be quite difficult to treat but seeing your chiropractor and ensuring your spine is in proper alignment can limit the compression placed on the spinal cord.
Facet joints are small joints found on the backside of the vertebra where two vertebrae are stacked on top of one another. The front half of the vertebrae have the intervertebral disc to connect one vertebra with the next, in the back the facet joint is used instead. These joints play a huge role in allowing the spine to remain flexible but remaining in a supportive alignment
Facet syndrome develops when the facet joints become irritated, inflamed, and misaligned. Facet syndrome often creates low back pain, especially when the patient is arching or extending their back because the joint capsule becomes stretched, torn, or damaged.
Unlike disc herniation and spinal stenosis this pain is usually isolated to the low back or buttocks region and doesn’t travel down to the knee or feet. The pain is usually sharp and intense but primarily only with movement or the initiation of movement.
Facet syndrome is a condition that can be treated and cured, but there is a high risk of re-injury if the patient doesn’t care for their spine properly.
Muscle Imbalances and Poor Posture:
Poor posture can be another primary cause of low back pain. Our bodies were not designed to sit, and in todays’ society sitting has become a way of life.
Many of us spend a full 8-hour work day in a seated position. Not only can a seated posture be stressful on the spine, but it also allows the surrounding muscles to relax and no longer support the body as much as it should. This translates to muscle soreness, muscle fatigue, and low back pain.
Because we spend so much time sitting our muscles are not strong enough to support the back when those muscles are needed, this is when more traumatic injuries take place like the disc herniation we discussed earlier.
Reducing our amount of time sitting isn’t the only way to improve our muscle imbalances. We should always be paying mind to our posture, even when we sleep. Your sleep position can also cause unnecessary stress on the spine, especially for those who sleep on their stomach.
Have your posture checked to learn how your poor posture could be the cause of your low back pain. The pain and symptoms are reversible with treatment and even some small lifestyle changes can improve your posture and subsequently your low back pain.
Osteoarthritis is one of the most common conditions seen throughout the body, but also within the spine.
Osteoarthiritis is brought on by the body when it begins to feel unstable. This instability initiates a natural bodily response to lay down more bone within the unstable joint, to try to improve the stability of the joint. This is when we start to see things like bone spurs and thinning joint spaces.
The lower back is a very common area to find this condition because we often have weak abdominal muscles from sitting too often, this creates the sense of instability and initiates the arthritic response of the body.
The pain that comes from this is usually caused by inflammation, and therefore anti-inflammatory drugs are often prescribed to someone with this condition. To slow the process from continuing we need to stop the body from feeling so unstable, we do this by promoting healthy motion of the joints and improving the muscle strength of the abdominal muscles as well as the supporting spinal muscles.
Low back pain is one of the most common problems amongst todays’ society and is one of the most difficult conditions to treat. As chiropractors, we are trained to assess, diagnose, and treat low back pain.
If you are suffering from low back pain, take action and get it assessed by an appropriate medical professional.
Leaving your low back condition for even 3 weeks without seeking treatment can be the difference between a quick recovery and a lifelong treatment plan.
To book an appointment with Dr Scott please call 3482 2637 or click here to book an appointment online.
By: Dr. Scott Walton (BSc. DC) Chiropractor, Wellspring Chiropractic at North Lakes, Brisbane.