Lower Back Pain
What is Low Back Pain?
Lower back pain is a general term used to describe the pain that is felt in the lower portion (or lumbar) spine. This type of back pain affects about 80% of adults and is the number one cause of job-related disability. To better understand low back pain, we must understand what the lower back is.
The back is made up of strong muscles and bones. Most notably, is the spine. 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.
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. Chronic low back pain is pain that persists for longer than 12 weeks despite treatment.
Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain varies 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.