If you have it, you already know—low back pain is no fun. What’s worse is that it is so common, so much so that the CDC has described it as the most common debilitating condition worldwide. In just 3 months, 82 million Americans reported experiencing acute low back pain. That’s 25 per cent! While we always recommend going to a doctor to get a professional diagnosis, we’ll share some information to help you understand what may be causing your pain and what to do about it.
Common Causes of Low back Pain
The low back is not overly complicated in terms of its structure. It is composed of muscles, ligaments, bones, and discs, each of which are common culprits of pain. Because of its simple structure, it is easy to break down the causes into 3 main categories.
The first common cause is a sprain/strain.
Quick anatomy lesson, ligaments are the rope-like structures that connect bone to bone and muscle are the tissue that actually moves bones into different positions. Sprains are when ligaments are stretched or torn, while a strain refers to the muscle being stretched or torn. It is highly likely that if you strained one, the other is also injured. Most people with this type of injury describe the pain as being a dull aching pain that quickly becomes sharp as they move. That is because a muscle or ligament that has been hurt will light up when it has to be used.
Sprain/strain injuries usually occur in one of two ways. The first is by a single traumatic event, such as a car accident or exerting yourself in some dramatic way (looking at you, Weekend Warriors and would-be weight lifters). The second way is from overuse and can be less obvious. Something as silly as bending to pull weeds from the garden repeatedly or sitting at a chair with less than optimal ergonomics over time will lead to an overuse injury. In the current situation of work and school being moved to home, we have seen many people from elementary school on up dealing with this sort of injury.
The second common cause of low back pain is spasms and cramping.
This type of pain is described as being deeper, sometimes even a throbbing pain that limits your ability to move in and out of certain positions. For example, you might feel it takes you a minute to go from the couch to a standing position and you have to take time to straighten yourself out. This may be due to a few different causes. One is, again, a sprain/strain, as muscles often protect themselves from further injury but doing what is called “muscle guarding” (defined as involuntary reaction to protect an area of pain as by spasm of muscle on palpation of the abdomen over a painful lesion) by the Merriam dictionary. Yet another cause is improper ion balance in the body, usually a lack of sodium, potassium, or magnesium. Dehydration is another. The final way these spasms tend to occur is from a lack of mobilization—that is to say, if you stay in a single position for a long time, either as a couch potato or because of your job, and do not stretch regularly, this will lead to excessive tightness globally, but especially in the back.
The third common cause of low back pain is disc herniation.
The third common cause of low back pain is slightly more serious: a disc herniation. The pain caused by this will be very unique, because it will not only make the back hurt, but oftentimes will send electric pains shooting down the back of the leg(s). This is caused by a disc (which is the cushion between the bones of the spine to be compromised) ballooning out and pushing into a nerve. Depending on the severity, herniated discs can be treated conservatively, but sometimes this condition can require surgical intervention.
For prevention of these ailments, the most important effort must be self-care. Good diet, staying hydrated, and keeping your muscles flexible and strong with regular exercise. Core work, particularly, can protect against injury. If you have a sedentary lifestyle, make an effort to get up, stretch, move about several times during the day.
Should you be experiencing a sprain or strain, be sure to rest the muscles (lay off the weight lifting and extreme exercise for a bit), stretch gently to maintain mobility, and work back up to strengthening.
Herniated discs certainly come in a wide range of severity, and never start a treatment or regimen without consulting a doctor or qualified chiropractic doctor. However, refer to the video attached to this post for a routine to strengthen the muscles supporting the affected vertebrae and discs.
With prevention and smart treatment, you’ll be back to better than normal. #ReachHigher, friends!