Top Reasons for Back Pain

Back pain is no picnic, especially when chronic. It can be debilitating and detract from your quality of life. Unfortunately, more than 31 million Americans suffer from lower back pain, making it the #1 leading cause of disability worldwide. Most cases of back pain are caused by damage to the intervertebral discs, improper movement of the spinal joints and compression of nerve roots.

Considering the fact that Americans collectively spend $50 billion a year on back pain, it’s no wonder people just want some relief. Let’s explore some of the top reasons for back pain and what can be done about them.

Muscle  Strain/Ligament Sprain

The most common cause of lower back pain is a pulled or torn muscle and/or ligament. These injuries can happen all of a sudden or come on slowly thanks to repetitive movements. 

  • Strains: These happen when your muscle is stretched too far and starts to tear, and in so doing, damages the muscle itself. 
  • Sprains: These occur when over-stretching and tearing impacts ligaments (these are what connect the bones together).

Common causes of these sprains and strains include: 

  • Lifting up a heavy object
  • Twisting your spine when lifting
  • Poor posture 
  • Sudden movements that put too much stress on the lower back (i.e., falls)
  • Sports injuries, especially those involving twisting or large impact forces

While sprains and strains don’t usually produce long-lasting pain, the acute pain is pretty severe. 

Disc and Joint Problems, Irritated Nerve Roots

  • Lumbar herniated disc: Lumbar discs have a soft center (think: jelly consistency) that can poke through the tough outer layer, irritating nerve roots nearby. The herniated part of the disc contains proteins that cause inflammation when touching a nerve root. That inflammation, along with nerve compression, causes nerve root pain. Severe pain results when the disc wall (rich in nerve fibers) is torn. 
  • Degenerative disc disease: When you’re born, your intervertebral discs contain a lot of water. They’re the healthiest at birth. But as we age, our discs lose that hydration and start wearing down, making it harder and harder to resist forces. Those forces are transferred to the disc wall, which can get tears in it and result in pain or weakness, and eventually herniation. 
  • Facet joint dysfunction: Behind each disc at each motion segment within the lumbar spine, there are facet joints. Those joints contain cartilage between the bones, surrounded by a nerve-rich capsular ligament. In themselves, these joints can produce pain, but especially when paired with disc pain. 
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: The sacroiliac joint is responsible for connecting the sacrum to each side of your pelvis. If this joint gets inflamed, it can become very painful.
  • Spinal stenosis: This is when the bony openings within the spine start to narrow and reduce space where the nerves can comfortably rest. This process occurs either within the spinal canal or within the intervertebral foramina (location where spinal nerves leave the spinal canal). Depending on the amount of narrowing, or the exact location, a spinal nerve or the cord itself can get compressed and lead to pain, tingling, weakness or numbness.
  • Osteoarthritis: This is what happens with long-term wear and tear of the disc and facet joints, resulting in pain, inflammation, and instability. This progressive disease happens to older people and is also known as spondylosis or degenerative joint disease.
  • Trauma: After a car accident or fall, acute fractures or spine dislocations can result in a lot of pain. 
  • Compression fracture: This happens in the cylindrical vertebra, whereby the bone caves in on itself and leads to sudden pain. Most commonly due to weak bones, this occurs more often in older people.

When Should You Seek Help?

Some back pain can improve over time with self-care, rest and home treatment, usually within a few weeks. However, if your symptoms don’t go away, you should call a doctor if the pain:

  • Extends beyond a few weeks
  • Is severe and unbearable, and doesn’t get better with rest
  • Radiates down one leg or both legs, especially below the knee
  • Causes weakness, tingling or numbness in legs
  • Leads to un-explained weight loss

Contact Summit Spine and Joint Centers

To learn how we can help you manage or eliminate your back pain, contact us at one of our many locations today. We specialize in the treatment of chronic pain conditions so that you can start enjoying your life again! Call us at (770) 962-3642 or complete our online form to schedule your appointment.