If you ask people whether they’ve had low back pain at least once in their life, you’ll get a “yes” in at least 80% of the cases. Both males and females are affected by this condition which typically occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
So why is low back pain a common ailment? There’s no one answer, because it can be one of many reasons:
- sedentary lifestyles with no exercise
- too much exercise
- injury to the spinal column
- trauma to the tendons, nerves and muscles
- post surgery complications
- a weakened neuromuscular system
- and many others
Overview of the lower back
Hearing experts describe the structure of the lower back makes you think it’s a complicated network of elements that are best described as “fragile.”
It is fragile.
Even when you think you’re doing all the right things – like bending your knees as you lift heavy objects, reducing trauma and impact to your muscles and joints through more moderate exercise, and other precautionary measures recommended by doctors, the chances are high that you will at some point suffer from back pain. If you’re lucky, you’ll probably recover in one to two weeks and resume your normal activities.
The more unlucky ones can suffer from chronic lower back pain. In the worst case scenario, victims are bedridden or need assistance getting out of bed.
What does the lower back look like?
You’ve got this group of soft tissues, tendons, ligaments and muscles. There are also nerve roots that go down to the legs and feet. Then there are complex joints – think “nuts and bolts”. You also have the spinal discs, the insides of which look like jello.
Lower back: a vulnerable body part
In a good number of patients, their lower back pain can be the result of a simple lumbar strain (for example, too much jerking of the backhand during a tennis game), injury (slipping on ice and breaking your ankle), or overuse (doing repetitive weight lifting exercises, putting pressure on the back).
These are the more common causes. You also have causes that are spine-related: herniated disks, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis, and osteoarthritis. Let’s look at each of these briefly:
- A herniated disk – is also known as “slipped disc”. This refers to ruptured tissues that separate the vertebrae of the spinal column.
- Degenerative disc disease – to explain this in more simple terms, think of the discs as the tiny pillows that cushion the vertebral bones. When the disc is subject to wear and tear, it slowly loses its ability to cushion the bones, and causes them to be herniated (ruptured).
- Spondylolisthesis – a condition resulting from the forward or backward movement of one vertebra to an adjacent vertebra. Most people can control this condition without surgery, but when it becomes intolerable, surgery may be a solution.
- Spinal stenosis – this condition happens when the opening of the spinal canal narrows and is most frequently caused by degenerative disks. Like spondylolisthesis, it can be controlled and managed through medication or exercise, but when it turns severe, preventing a person from performing his daily functions, other more invasive treatment may be recommended.
- Osteoarthritis – a condition characterized by the breakdown or deterioration of cartilage in the joints. It is a type of arthritis that is caused by aging, heredity or injury (trauma). There can be a build-up of calcium deposits in the affected joints which can be any joint in the body.
This helps us understand why the lower back is such a vulnerable and fragile part of our anatomy, and why the pain is felt by many men and women. It can be the target of “external and internal forces”, figuratively speaking. Examples of outside forces are a sports injury or a car accident; examples of inside forces are those conditions that are brewing in the spine because of a pre-existing health disorder, or the gradual deterioration of components in the spinal column.
While many lower back pain episodes resolve themselves, you are encouraged to see a good chiropractor first if your pain persists and becomes severe. With proper treatment and rest, if symptoms won’t go away and if your condition is accompanied by tingling, numbness, weakness, weight loss or trouble urinating. These could be symptoms of a more serious disorder. We heard of a case where a woman thought she was having chronic low back pain when in fact she was later diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This can be diagnosed by your doctor and appropriate testing done if needed.
Don’t let the “commonness” of low back pain diminish your vigilance!