Lower back pain is a common condition that can affect people of all ages. This pain and discomfort can be felt in the lower region of the back between the rib cage and the pelvis. Symptoms of lower back pain can range from mild to severe and may include aching, stiffness, sharp pain, or a burning sensation. The pain may be localized or may radiate to other parts of the body, such as the hips, legs, or feet. In this article we will discuss the different factors which can cause lower back pain and when you should consult with a doctor.
A muscle strain, also known as a pulled muscle, occurs when a muscle is stretched or torn due to overuse, excessive force, or improper use. It can happen to any muscle in the body but is most common in the lower back (as well as the neck, shoulders, and thighs). Following are some of the muscles that are commonly involved in lower back pain:
- Erector Spinae: These muscles run along the spine and are responsible for keeping the back upright.
- Quadratus Lumborum: This muscle is located in the lower back and help to stabilize the spine.
- Iliopsoas: These are located in the front of the hip and can contribute to lower back pain if they become strained or tight.
- Gluteal Muscles: The group of muscles, which include the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus, attach to the pelvis and can cause lower back pain if they become imbalanced or strained.
- Hamstrings: Located in the back of the thigh, these muscles and can contribute to lower back pain if they are tight or strained.
A herniated disc, also known as a slipped or ruptured disc, is a condition that occurs when the soft gel-like center of a spinal disc pushes through a fracture in the outer layer. This can irritate the nearby nerves causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs.
Herniated discs can be caused by age-related wear and tear, repetitive motion, or traumatic injury such as a car accident or sports injury. Symptoms can vary depending on the location and severity of the herniation, but may include lower back pain, leg pain, numbness or tingling, and weakness in the affected area.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition that occurs when the spinal discs between the vertebrae in the spine start to break down or degenerate. The spinal discs act as shock absorbers and help cushion the spine during movement. As the discs lose their ability to absorb shock and support the spine, they become more vulnerable to injury and can cause irritation or compression of nearby nerves.
The degenerative changes in the discs can also lead to the development of bone spurs, which can further exacerbate the compression of nerves in the spinal column. This can cause pain, numbness, or tingling in the lower back, buttocks, and legs. In rare cases, as DDD progresses it can also affect the alignment of the spine, resulting in added strain on the muscles, ligaments, and joints in the lower back.
Arthritis is a term used to describe a group of conditions that cause inflammation and damage to the joints and soft tissues in the body. The two most common types of arthritis that can cause lower back pain are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
- Osteoarthritis – This degenerative joint disease results from the wear and tear of the cartilage that cushions the joints. As the cartilage breaks down, the bones in the joints can rub against each other, causing pain, stiffness, and limited mobility. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the joints in the spine, and can cause lower back pain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This autoimmune disease causes the body’s immune system to attack the joints, resulting in inflammation and damage to the joint tissues. This can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the affected joints, including those in the spine. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause deformity in the joints and affect the alignment of the spine, leading to additional pain and discomfort.
Spinal stenosis is a condition that occurs when the spinal canal narrows, putting pressure on the nerves that travel through the spine. This can cause lower back pain, as well as pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs. Spinal stenosis can be caused by a variety of factors, including degenerative changes in the spine, herniated discs, bone spurs, or thickened ligaments in the spine. The condition is most commonly seen in people over the age of 50, but it can also occur in younger people.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become weak and brittle, making them more likely to break or fracture. This can cause lower back pain by weakening the bones in the spine, making them more prone to compression fractures. These fractures can cause sudden and severe pain in the lower back, as well as loss of height and a stooped posture.
People with osteoporosis may also experience chronic lower back pain due to the gradual weakening and collapse of the vertebral bodies in the spine. This can cause the spine to curve and compress the nerves, leading to pain, numbness, and weakness in the legs.
Scoliosis is a condition in which the spine curves sideways, causing it to twist and bend into an “S” or “C” shape. This curvature can be mild or severe, and it can occur at any age, although it most commonly develops during the growth spurt just before puberty. In mild cases of scoliosis, lower back pain may not be a significant issue. However, in more severe cases, the curvature of the spine can cause the vertebrae to compress, leading to pain, discomfort, and limited mobility.
Kidney stones are hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys or other parts of the urinary tract. They are made up of various substances, including calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, and can range in size from a grain of sand to a pea or even larger. Kidney stones can form when urine contains high levels of certain substances, such as calcium or uric acid, which can crystallize and stick together. They can also form when the urine is too concentrated or when there is a lack of substances that prevent the crystals from sticking together.
Kidney stones can cause lower back pain because they can irritate or block the ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. When the ureters are blocked, urine can back up into the kidneys, causing pain and discomfort in the lower back and sides.
Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of it. This can occur in the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other areas of the pelvis, as well as in other parts of the body.
The tissue that grows outside of the uterus responds to hormonal changes in the same way as the tissue inside the uterus, and it can become inflamed, bleed, and cause pain. The symptoms of endometriosis can vary, but may include lower back pain, painful periods, pelvic pain, pain during sex, and infertility.
An infection is a condition caused by the invasion and growth of harmful bacteria in the body, typically at the site of an existing wound. Infections can occur in many parts of the body, including the urinary tract, spine, and pelvis.
Spinal infections such as osteomyelitis or discitis, which are caused by bacteria, can also cause lower back pain. These infections can occur in the bones or soft tissues of the spine and can cause severe pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the lower back. While infections in the pelvic area, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), are caused by bacteria that infect the female reproductive system and can cause pain in the lower back, pelvic area, and abdomen.
When should you call a doctor?
It’s important to contact a doctor if you experience lower back pain that is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, chills, or neurological symptoms like weakness, numbness or tingling in your legs or arms. Additionally, you should seek medical attention if you have a history of cancer, unexplained weight loss, or recent trauma.
The doctors at The Spine Center have a strong commitment to excellence in diagnosis and treatment of a variety of spinal injuries and conditions spanning all ages. If you’re experiencing chronic lower back pain, contact us today to see how we can help.