Lower Back Pain

Low Back Pain Overview Low Back Pain Causes & Symptoms Low Back Pain Diagnosis & Treatment

What is Low Back Pain?

Low back pain can be very debilitating and life-changing for many people. In fact, about 80 percent of adults experience low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. Low back pain is the most common cause of lost days of work due to a job-related injury or disability. Low back pain does not discriminate between men or women. The economic and social impact of low back pain can be a substantial drain on wages due to missed days of work and people’s daily quality of life. In 1990, a study ranked low back pain the 6th most burdensome condition in the U.S. in terms of mortality or poor health; in 2010, low back pain jumped to third place, with only ischemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ranking higher.

Low back pain can manifest in a dull ache or an abrupt, sharp sensation, and any variation between. Pain can sudden, due to lifting something heavy or incorrectly or by trauma; or can develop over a long time because of age-related changes or repeated insult. Sedentary lifestyle and increased weight can contribute to low back pain. Long periods of standing or bending can cause problems quickly as well.

Most lower back pain is acute, or short-term, and lasts a few days to a few weeks. It can resolve on its own with rest and over the counter anti-inflammatories. Typically, acute pain does not result in loss of function or long-term complications. Most acute low back pain is mechanical, which means that there was a change in the way the structures in the back fit together and move, such as a strain or sprain.

Subacute Low Back Pain is pain that lasts longer than 4 weeks, but less than 12. This is also usually caused by injury or insult, such as an accident, and generally, requires treatment.

ChronicLow Back Pain is pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks despite treatment.


What Is The Anatomy Of The Low Back?

The spine is made up of strong muscles and bones that provide support to the body and allows us to be upright and walk.  The spinal column is constructed of 33 individual bones (or vertebrae) stacked on top of each other. Between each set of vertebrae are intervertebral discs, which provide for movement and cushion the vertebrae. Inside the spinal canal is the spinal cord and nerves that extend throughout your entire body. Ligaments hold the vertebrae together and stabilize the spine.

The top 7 vertebrae that make up your neck are known as are the cervical spine, this area has the greatest range of motion and is connected to the skull. The next 12 vertebrae that make up the mid back are known as the thoracic spine. This area has much less range of motion and is connected to the rib cage to protect the organs in your chest. The low back is made up of the next 5 vertebrae and is called the lumbar spine. This area of the back bears most of the body’s weight and the vertebrae are much larger to absorb the stress of lifting and moving. Further down, in your pelvic girdle, the next 5 vertebrae are fused together and are known as the sacrum, which attaches your hips to your spine. The last 4 vertebrae are also fused at the tail of your spine and known as the coccyx. Each vertebra has facet joints that are hinge-like structures that link the spine together and allow for bending.


The torso makes up about 36% of your body mass and about half its length. Because the lower back is designed to carry the body’s weight and absorb the stress of moving and bending, it should come as no shock that this area is what is most commonly injured. As we age, our bodies undergo many changes. Similar gradual changes affect the spine’s components, especially the intervertebral discs, facet joints, and ligaments. Injury or degeneration to any one of these structures can cause or contribute to lower back pain.


Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain vary depending on the area the pain is located and the structure that is affected. For pain not resolved with rest and over the counter pain medication, visit a spine specialist immediately.


Do you know someone who could benefit from this information?