lower back pain

Where Does That Ache Come From? The Science of Back Pain

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It is estimated that 8 in every 10 people have at one point in their lives experienced back pain. In fact, so prevalent is back pain that in 2010, the Global Burden of Disease singled it out as the top most cause of disabilities in the world. Unfortunately, back pain can be experienced by almost anyone, regardless of race, age or gender. It is however more likely to be experienced by overweight people, smokers, pregnant ladies, those who are ageing and even those who are experiencing high levels of stress. Although the reasons for experiencing back pain may not be so clear at times, science asserts that there are several potential causes.

Mechanical Problems

Sometimes, back pain may be caused by mechanical issues. These are issues that deter the accurate and correct movement of the spine. A possible sign of the back pain being a result of mechanical problems is when the pain occurs only when the spine moves in a certain way.

Discs of the spine
Healthwise, Inc.

There are several mechanical causes of back pain. One of the most common of these is Intervertebral Disc Degeneration. This is when the disks that are located between the vertebrae gradually break down which subsequently diminishes their cushioning capabilities. Sometimes, the disks may fall out of place or even become herniated. This may result in nerve irritation which in turn may lead to back pain and even weakness.

It would be important to note that the degeneration of the disks and facet joints increases with age. This is simply because the older one becomes, the weaker his/her cartilage becomes. Since both the disks and the facet joints are partially made of cartilage, they end up degenerating even more.

Other mechanical causes of back pain include spasms and tense muscles.

2. Injuries

Injuries are also another common cause of back pain. One common injury to the back is when the ligaments or the muscles over-stretch resulting in the ligaments, tendons and even muscles getting torn. This is an injury better known as a lumbar strain and it mostly affects people who are over 40 years old. Lumbar strains are often characterized by pain and discomfort in the lower back and may be caused by trauma or over-using the back. The lumbar strain may also be caused by sudden movements or repeatedly lifting heavy objects.

lower lumbar diagram

Conditions such as osteoporosis may cause both the lumbar spine and the scrum bone to fracture. Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens the bones hence increasing the chance of injury.

Injuries to the back may also be as a result of accidents or major falls.

3. Medical conditions and diseases

Several conditions and diseases also cause back pain. One such condition is scoliosis which is characterized by the spine curving or twisting in an abnormal manner. Scoliosis is largely common in children between the ages of 10 and 15. However, adults with scoliosis are the ones more likely to experience back pains.

Spondylolisthesis is another condition that may cause back pain. Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one vertebra slips either forward or backward over the adjacent vertebra. When the vertebra slips forward, then it is known as anterolisthesis and when it slips backward, it is called retrolisthesis. But aside from back pain, Spondylolisthesis can also lead to several other back problems including spinal stenosis and foraminal stenosis both of which can cause bony encroachment. This is when the spinal spaces are limited by the presence of an alien spinal anatomy in the space. This ultimately results in the irritation of the nervous tissue found between these spaces which in turn may cause back pain. The irritation of nerves is known as sciatica.

The spine may be affected by various forms of arthritis. These spondylarthropathies (arthritis affecting the spine) include; osteoarthritis (which is the most common), ankylosing spondylitis and enteropathic arthritis. All of these forms of arthritis are characterized by pains in the lower back among other symptoms.

Back pain can be a by-result of kidney stones. These are stones that end up blocking the ureter subsequently deterring the flow of urine from the kidney to the bladder. When this happens, the kidneys may swell and the victim may experience some form of back pain.

The possibility of back pain also increases with pregnancy. This is largely because of the extra weight which in turn strains the lumbar spine even more. In addition to that, pregnancy is characterized by increased levels of relaxin and estrogen which may end up weakening the ligaments in the back hence causing back pain.

4. Tumors

Tumors, whether benign or malignant can cause pain in the lower back. This is especially so when they originate from the pelvis, the spinal cord or the bone of the spine. However, this is not to say that tumors originating from other places cannot cause back pain. In fact, back pains will be experienced even when the tumors originate from other areas and with time, spread to the spine bones, the pelvis or the spinal cord. Chest tumors, for example, can lead to upper back pains.

5. Other causes

lower back pain

The truth is that back pains may be caused by a myriad of other reasons. Women, for example, may experience back pains due to ovary problems such as uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts.

Paget’s disease of the bone is a rare cause of back pain. This is a condition in which the ability of the bones to repair themselves is disrupted causing them to become weak and in some cases, deformed. Paget’s disease of the bone mainly affects adults who are over 50 years old.

Sometimes, patients who are taking blood-thinners may experience bleeding in the pelvis. One symptom of the bleeding is sciatica pains.

Despite the fact that back pain is mostly caused by physical conditions and diseases, there is evidence that stress and depression also play a major role in causing back pains. When people are stressed, their muscles tend to become tense. Back muscles are not an exception from this hence the possibility of experiencing back pains when stressed. What’s more, stress and depression can also have the effect of either lengthening the back pain or making it even more severe. Aside from stress and depression, back pain can be as a result of insomnia and inadequate sleep.

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