It is estimated that, at one time or another, eighty percent of people will experience it. Low Back Pain (LBP), which has reached epidemic proportions with our modern lifestyle, is most often a result of a combination of factors. When individuals understand the causes of low back pain, they can take a more active role in treating it.
Decreased Exercise and Increased Stress
Our spines were designed to be strong and flexible. A natural, healthy spine can bend two-thirds of the way into a circle and support over 50 kg of weight. It is also designed to move often, and to relax completely when it is not moving.
It is easy to see how we have departed from the spine’s natural design functions. Our modern lifestyle itself is a precondition for many of the common causes of LBP.
Most of us do not exercise the lower portion of our spine in a full range of motion on a daily basis. Few of us fully relax our low back even when we are not moving. We may be sitting at a desk or car, but the stress within us keeps our muscles in a state of tension.
When we do exercise it is too often without proper muscle preparation or good technique. We go out with great enthusiasm and often literally “break our back” playing weekend athlete or gardener, or trying to “keep up” in an exercise class. We expect a lot of our lower back and spine without giving it the daily attention it needs to remain strong and flexible.
Common Reasons for Low Back Pain
The most common causes for LBP are related to conditions that we can do something about.
1. Posture and poor alignment. We often hold ourselves in postures which make movement difficult and unnatural, and predispose us to LBP. Any posture which compromises the natural curvature and muscular balance of the spine places strain and tension on supporting muscles and ligaments, weakening them.
Without proper support, the joints of the vertebrae are forced to carry weight which they are not meant to carry. This can lead to premature spinal degeneration and pain. The issue of poor posture is a concerning issue for employers, which is why many take up injury prevention programs.
2. Overexertion. We tend to ignore the subtle signals our back gives us to let up on our activity, or change our position. In spite of a twinge here or a little spasm there, we continue to move furniture around or sit at the computer for another three hours until we strain a muscle
3. Emotional stress and muscular tension. Stress causes muscles to contract. Chronically contracted muscles stop the circulation of blood and oxygen. Pain and atrophy in the muscle, and misalignment of the joints can be the result of muscle tension.
4. Degenerative wear and tear. Although the spine undergoes a natural aging process, inappropriate alignment and use of the spine can speed up that process. Arthritis, Osteoporosis, Facet irritation and Vertebral disc damage are some of the effects of aging which can cause LBP.
5. Bulging or herniated disc. A herniated or protruding disc can cause severe back pain, but only a small percentage of LBP can be attributed to this condition.
6. Structural abnormalities. Occasionally LBP is caused by a predisposing condition such as scoliosis, spinal bifida or spondylolisthesis. These abnormalities can be seen on most plain film x-rays.
7. Traumatic back injuries. Automobiles, industrial accidents and active sports cause most traumatic back injuries.
What ever the cause, low back pain can be debilitating. Taking good care of our spine and seeking proper treatment when pain does occur can help keep low back pain at bay.
Low Back Pain is Often Chronic
A 5-year analysis of 813 people ages 30 to 50 years sheds light on the chronicity of low-back pain (LBP).
Results showed that, compared with subjects who did not have a recent history of LBP, people who reported LBP during the year before the study’s onset were: (a) 4 times more likely to have the disorder during year 1 of the study and (b) 2 times more likely to suffer LBP in year 5.
More than one third of those who reported LBP during the previous year experienced pain for more than 30 days. Only 9% of these individuals were pain free at the study’s completion. On the other hand, 40% continued to report LBP.
Low back pain should not be considered transient and therefore neglected. The condition rarely seems to be self-limiting but merely presents with periodic attacks and temporary remissions. On the other hand, chronicity as defined solely by the duration of symptoms should not be considered chronic.