Lower Back Pain – Five Common Causes

“Oh, my aching back!”

We hear the phrase so often that it’s a cliché, but lower back pain is no joke.

Here are five common causes of lower back pain with suggestions on how to prevent or alleviate it.

Back Muscle Strain

When you lift a heavy object, twist sharply or otherwise engage in some kind of sudden movement, you risk stretching or tearing the muscles or ligaments of your lower back. In fact, a lower back strain is one of the most common causes of acute pain in the lower back.

Strains can cause anything from mild discomfort to crippling pain that leaves you unable to engage in basic tasks.

Treat a strain with rest, ice or heat, anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and very gentle stretching or lower-back exercise. To prevent future back muscle strains, lift using the knees instead of the back, avoid lifting anything that is too heavy and avoid abrupt or sharp movements involving your back.

Isthmic Spondylolisthesis

This condition occurs when a lower back vertebra slips into a neighboring disc’s space, and this slippage compresses the nerve root.

Often, isthmic spondylolisthesis is the result of a childhood fracture that does not cause much pain until the person reaches adulthood. As a result, there is instability, nerve pain and lower back pain that may seem to occur without any specific cause. People with isthmic spondylolisthesis usually feel better when they sit in a reclining position and worse when they bend backwards.

Physical therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can relieve the pain, but surgery is also an option if the pain does not respond to conservative treatments.

Herniated Disc

The spine is cushioned with discs, and, over time, a disc can degenerate and leak. Less commonly, an injury can damage a disc, also causing breakage or bulging.

This herniation can irritate neighboring nerves, which then causes sciatica, numbness or lower back pain. In the case of a herniated disc, the pain is not exclusively in the lower back. It can travel to the leg, buttocks or foot, or it may be localized on one side of the body. Rest, heat, ice and simple physical therapy exercises are typically recommended for the treatment of a herniated disc.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is characterized by inflammation in the joints of the spine, which causes stiffness and pain. This inflammation usually results in the fusion of the vertebrae and spinal joints.

This fusion causes the spine to become increasingly rigid, often to the point of complete inflexibility. Ankylosing spondylitis is most common in men under the age of 30, but it can affect anyone. It is a genetic condition, so almost everyone who has ankylosing spondylitis also has the HLA-B27 gene.

Facet Joint Osteoarthritis

Facet joint osteoarthritis is also called osteoarthritis of the spine or degenerative arthritis. Over time, the cartilage between the spine’s facet joints breaks down, causing a number of painful symptoms. The pain is usually worst upon waking and at the end of the day.

The pain in the lower back is either steady or intermittent, but it can be aggravated by extended physical activity. There is localized tenderness when pressing the affected area of the spine. The pain may be intermittent at first, but with time, it can become steadier and even eventually cause sciatica on top of the lower back pain. Osteoarthritis is the result of a number of factors, including age, weight, gender and genetic predisposition to the condition.

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