Every one of us has likely experienced back pain at one time or another in our life. (If you haven’t, dare I say…you will). Injury, poor posture, repetitive positions, pregnancy and couch slouching are just a few of the causes of back pain, and due to the complexity of the human spine, it is often hard to tell exactly what the structural issue is.
Spinal Anatomy 101
Our adult spine consists of a stack of 24 vertebrae plus the bones of the sacrum and coccyx (our non-existent tail, as my childhood friend always told me). These bones give the rest of the body form and function and protect the spinal cord. Discs, made of cartilage and filled with a gel-like material that acts like a shock absorber, are found between each vertebra. Ligaments, muscles, tendons and small joints called facets hold the vertebrae together.
So why does it hurt sometimes?
Here are a few possible causes of back pain:
1) Muscle or ligament strain
Lower back pain is the most common form of back pain. The structures in the lower back are under heavy pressure you’re sitting, moving or lifting – which is basically all the time. Sprains (ligaments) and strains (muscle) are very common with exercise, active work and even sneezing or coughing. Yes. I’m serious, you read that correctly. I can’t even begin to tell you how many people I’ve seen with a back injury resulting from a big sneeze.
2) Being overweight
Being overweight for your skeleton (because a person can be bigger or smaller based on bone structure and that does not make you over or under weight, it all relates to the size of your skeleton – important point) especially excess weight in the abdomen (belly fat) can cause lower back pain due to the force of the abdomen pulling the spine forward and out of its natural lordotic curve.
3) Disc pain
Sometimes, one of the discs is squished a bit out-of-place. This is usually due to normal aging, and is called a ‘bulging’ disc. The disc can also have some cracked cartilage due to genetics, wear and tear or sudden trauma and some of the shock absorbing gel inside the cartilage protrudes out, it’s called a ‘herniated’ (or ‘ruptured’ or ‘slipped’) disc. Bulging and/or herniated discs may or may not cause pain.
4) Foot issues
Since feet bear the weight of our bodies anytime we are standing, a foot issue can lead to back pain by disrupting the normal gait pattern, increasing pressure on other structures, such as the knees, hips, and back. If your foot lacks good support (as happens with fallen arches) or if there is a leg length discrepancy (more common than you might think), you may want to seek out a podiatrist to help.
This is a disorder in which tissue normally lining the inside of the uterus grows outside the uterus. It can cause pain in the pelvis as well as the lower back often worse during the menstrual cycle, according to the Mayo Clinic. A pelvic exam, ultrasound, or MRI may be used to diagnose it, and treatment may include taking hormonal contraceptives, pain medication, and sometimes surgery.
Ya ya, I know. Not fair, but true. According to Statistics Canada , chronic lower back pain often begins between the ages of 30 and 50 and worsens with age. This may be due to the fact that we tend to gain weight and become more sedentary as we age. Note: KEEP MOVING ALWAYS.
6) Degenerative Disc Disease
You may hear the term “degenerative disc disease.” This is a catch-all term that refers to the general condition of the discs, which over time lose their water content and sponginess possibly leading to osteoarthritis, herniated discs or bulging discs.
This is the most common form of arthritis, occurring as the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. It can damage any joint in the body, however it most commonly affects joints in your hands, knees, hips and spine. Eventually, if the cartilage wears down completely, you may be left with bone rubbing on bone. OUCH!
8) Facet joint pain
The facet joints are the joints in your spine between the articular processes of two adjacent vertebrae that make your back flexible and enable you to bend and twist. Nerves exit your spinal cord through these joints on their way to other parts of your body. Sometimes, these joints can become swollen and painful due to osteoarthritis (see previous back pain cause).
9) Pinched nerve
Discs squeezed out-of-place may put pressure a nerve – commonly it’s happens near the sciatic nerve – which runs out of the lower spine and into the leg. This compression can cause shooting nerve pain (when in this area – termed sciatica) in the lower back, buttock, and leg.
Fibromylagia is recognized as a disturbance of the natural way the body deals with pain. It causes an impairment of pain-processing mechanisms causing the brain to be more sensitive to incoming sensory input. Symptoms are widespread pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties.
11) Spinal stenosis
This is when the spinal canal becomes narrowed and impinges on nerves, causing shooting nerve pain.
Is Your Back Pain Serious?
Rarely but sometimes, back pain can be a symptom of a more serious condition. If you have a history of cancer, or if your back pain is associated with fever, unexplained weight loss, or loss of bowel or bladder control, or gets severely worse when you’re lying down or at night, see a doctor immediately.
So – where to go from here?
If you have back pain, and it’s not severe (if so, as mentioned above, why are you even sitting here reading this – go see a doctor immediately) the best course of action is to see your doctor to rule out anything requiring immediate or surgical care – then see a clinical massage therapist or physiotherapist who will assess your symptoms, converse with your doctor and make a treatment plan to get your back to pain-free!
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I’d love to hear from you!