Pain, no matter where it occurs, interrupts our lives and ability to function. Lumbar ache could be a sign of something serious that needs immediate attention. Causes of lower back pain can be numerous, ranging from injury to chronic diseases to nerve problems.
Orthopedic surgeons state that 80% of all Americans will experience pain in the lower back at some point in their life. There is no other condition that makes life constantly challenging. For some surgery, steroids or medical help when accompanied by exercises and changes in diet. For many, the best that they can hope for is a mere relief.
Understanding the Spine
The spine is composed of 30 small bones with sponges sitting between each one. These sponges are called discs. Discs degenerate from injury, age-related diseases, genetic disorders or poor lifestyle habits. These discs act much in the same way as a shock absorber. All the movements of the body affect the spine. Upper body weight also affects the spine – especially lumbar area. When the discs are damaged, the bones grind together and cause severe soreness.
The Most Common Lower Back Pain Causes and Symptoms
- Degenerative disc disease: Degenerative disc disease, sometimes called Spinal Stenosis, is the disintegration due to age and lifestyle choices [such as foods] that cause the spongy discs to slowly dissolve over time. When the discs loose the moisture in the jelly-like substance, they tend to shrink. This can eventually cause nerve impingement disorders.
- Herniated disc aka ruptured disc or slipped disc: Causes of back muscle pain, Herniated discs are similar to degenerative discs except that the disc bursts in one area. Think of the disc as a tire filled with this jelly substance and the tire gets a small bubble in it as it ages. The bubble hits a bump [or in this case, you twist just right] and the bubble pops leaking the filling contained. Approximately 1/3 of adults over 20 have experienced this problem.
- Sciatica aka nerve root syndrome: You may have heard your grandparents speak about having “Sciatica”. They may or may not have actually had this particular disease since at one time all low back disorders were called Sciatica. Actually, this is a nerve root impingement disorder where the spinal cord nerves are touched or pinched by one of the bones. Symptoms that are typical include a sharp muscle aching in one spot and numbness to the area where the nerve delivers messages.
- Rheumatism: Rheumatism is a disorder that affects soft muscles, tissues and known as a cause of lumbago as well. Because this is a long-term disorder and has symptoms that affect the entire body, the America College of Rheumatology has pinpointed 18 specific points of pain. In order for a diagnosis of Rheumatism to be rendered, 11 of those 18 must exhibit soreness consistently for 3 months. One of the symptoms of Rheumatism that is not usually discussed is sleep disorders.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a degeneration of the bone and bone mass plus the degeneration of the discs. There was a time that this disease was thought to be associated with age but now it is thought to be a result of hormonal imbalance, which occurs at any age. As the bone deteriorates inside, it becomes jagged or rough on the exterior. The rough texture can cause bubbling in the disc and eventually a rupture of the sac. This is a reason for chronic back pain that requires a medical doctor’s advice.
- Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is an infection – usually bacterial – that is spread through the blood stream or by contact with the infection from the skin. The bones can become infected when plates or rods are inserted into the bone such as hip surgery or pinning of a thigh bone. Those with diabetes and those who use injected drugs are at the highest risk. Others that have a higher than normal risk of bone infections include those with poor circulation and recent trauma to the bones.
- Injury from car accidents, lifting, carry heavier than normal weights: Car accidents are the common cause of lower back pain that could become acute and chronic. Damage to the bone, spinal cord or disc often presents with pain and stiffness immediately. It may decrease over a period of time and then worsen later as the bone or disc deteriorates or is left untreated.
There are a high number of causes of injury to the back seen in military personnel, from tossing heavy boxes of munitions or bags food from one person to another. This sudden weight on the spine often causes damage to the bone and discs in the lumbar area. Because of the urgency involved, appropriate safety procedures are ignored.
Young people – under the age of 18 – are prone to accidental or exercise related injury. Those may be results of skateboard and bike jumps where they land in the wrong way; from football and soccer accidents or from lifting weights before their bone mass and muscle development has reached the correct stage.
Common Causes For Lower Back Pain That Are Rare and Serious
There are two very serious – possibly life-threatening – causes. Both are rare but should not be automatically ruled out if you experience pain in your lower back.
- Tumors: Tumors in the spine are rare and could be either malignant or benign in nature. Generally, this type of lower back pain gradually increases and seems to spread from pain to numbness in specific areas, lack of sensitivity to heat and cold and often falls from difficulty in walking. Tumors are not associated with injuries, stress or physical activity that can cause the pain. Only medical specialists can determine if the cause of pain is due to a tumor.
- Cauda equina syndrome: Cauda equina syndrome is the most serious and equally most rare cause pain in the lower part of the body. It requires immediate emergency treatment. A variety of incidents may cause the problem including spinal taps, injuries to the back, deterioration of the discs from diseases or even tumors in other parts of the body that spread to the spinal canal. Essentially, this syndrome indicates issues with the nerves compressing in the spinal canal.
Regardless of the causes of lower back pain, the one common denominator is the inability to stand for long periods, sit comfortably and walk without pain.